#977: “I just don’t want to be your friend:” “No thanks!” is NOT mean.

Hi Capt,

Surely this has been asked before, but I can’t find anything this straightforward in the archive. What do you say when someone wants to be your friend but you just don’t like them?

I feel like at any given time there are a few people in my life who really want to be my friend but who I just don’t find all that interesting or fun or my cup of tea. Usually they have done nothing wrong and are in no way offensive; I just don’t like them. Usually they pursue me pretty hard, inviting me to things and politely but persistently trying to schedule friend-dates. Usually we are socially connected so there’s no ghosting on them forever (also that’s mean), and also it means bearing the burden of showing up at a real friend’s party and having not-my-friend be super excited to see me and be all “it is so awesome to see you, we need to catch up!” Ugh.

I sound like such a jerk in this email. I don’t want to be a jerk! I also don’t want to spend time with people I don’t like, and I don’t need new friends badly enough to give these folks a chance, and inevitably they are the sort of people who stubbornly refuse to notice that their invitations are never reciprocated. I also wonder why I seem to attract oblivious quasi-groupies when I am definitely not the cool one in my friend group and also I am really not that nice to people I don’t like. Like, I’m not an asshole (I hope), but no one could claim that I lead these not-friends on; it’s not like I say “omg we def need to catch up but I’m just soooo busy rn,” I’m more like “sorry, can’t make it! EOM”.

Got a script for saying “no I don’t want to hang out with you and it’s not that I’m busy, I just don’t want to” without making it a Huge Deal? Or for telling a new acquaintance that no you don’t really want to get coffee some time or friend them on Facebook? Also what’s with people friending folks on FB who they met once for like a hot second and then being offended that you don’t accept the request? Hi I don’t know you so I definitely don’t want to see your vacation photos nor you to see mine.

Maybe I am just a jerk.

Oh lordy these people probably write to advice columnists about me.

Not Your Friend

Dear Not Your Friend,

If you check the “African Violet of Broken Friendship” tag in the archives, you’ll see a wish for a ritual whereby one can send a plant and a card that says something like “Sorry and thank you for the good times we’ve shared, let’s not be friends, though.” We have clear scripts for “I don’t want to date you” or “We are broken up now” with romantic partners but not “We are friend-broken-up or never-friends in the first place.”

Why African Violets? They are lovely plants with no hidden “I don’t like you” meanings as far as I know, I just have a terrible personal history of getting them as a gift from my green thumb mom or grandma or aunts and then killing them stone dead. They are fiddly and require too much maintenance (for me) to keep them alive. If you wanted to take that route you could use the “I don’t like you” plant or flower of your choice.

To your question:

A) For unwanted Facebook requests, delete them expediently and without guilt or discussion. If someone asks you “why?” remind yourself that it’s not actually a mystery: If someone deletes or ignores your friend request from you, they don’t want to interact with you…on Facebook. Back in the days when social media was called LiveJournal, I used to have this in my profile: “‘I like [person]’ is different from ‘I want to read [person]’s every waking thought and share all of mine with them.'” That still holds true!

Not accepting a friend request (or following back) doesn’t mean someone hates you and it’s not a mean or cruel thing to do. Some people have a “no coworkers, not ever” rule. Some people have a “no family, not ever” rule. Some people have a “No one who is even remotely connected to my toxic ex even if they have no way of knowing the history” rule. I have a “no students while they are still my students,” “no dudes where I can’t immediately place how we know each other” and “no ‘but shouldn’t it say ‘all lives matter?’ people” rule. Some people see Facebook as a very loose and casual way to stay connected with everyone and anyone they know, so, why not accept every request? Some people make an art of accepting every request and then using filters and the “hide feed” button to create the illusion of connection. Some people want to rigorously cultivate their internet gardens. Let them.

B) For unwanted social invitations, try replacing “Sorry, can’t make it” with something closer to “No thank you.” “Sorry, can’t make it” when translated through the Wishful Thinking Generator can mean “Sorry, can’t make it….that specific day!” and can start the enthusiastic person down a  problem-solving process of finding the day you can make it. See if you can circumvent that process a little bit.

Them: “So nice to see you! We have to catch up sometime. Want to have coffee soon?

You: “No, thank you!”

Record Scratch

Does that feel harsh? Readers, did anyone have an instant “Oof, I could never actually say that to someone’s face, though!” reaction? Women are super-socialized to care of other people’s feelings and be indirect in our refusals. We are socialized to see saying a simple “No” to something we don’t want to do as possibly “being mean.” It actually takes practice and effort to get past this socialization.

Some other ways to say a direct “No thanks:”

  • Count me out for coffee, thanks” + [subject change]
  • I’ll have to pass on coffee” + [subject change]
  • Thanks for the invite, but no” + [subject change]
  • I don’t want to have coffee, thanks.” + [subject change]
  • I’m not interested in coffee, thanks” + [subject change]

Do not say that you just don’t have time. Do not imply that you’d love to but you can’t. Do not plead a prior commitment. Don’t use the word “sorry” anywhere in the sentence. Save the “I’d love to get together but I can’t, maybe another time!” responses for the people where you’d actually love to get together another time.

Being told “no” is not mean. It’s certainly not persecution or bullying. It is direct and truthful. We’ve got to be able to say a clear, direct “no” and we’ve got to be able hear it when someone says it to us. It’s something that definitely becomes more pronounced along power lines, for example: Men have got to learn how to hear it from women. White women have got to learn how to hear it from women of color. Entitled customers have got to learn how to hear “Sorry, we’re closed” or “That coupon has expired” from retail employees.

You’re not a robot and socialization runs deep, so it’s okay if psyching yourself up to say “no” and/or hearing “no” to an invitation stings your feelings, as long as you understand that it’s your job to manage your own hurt feelings here. An invitation is not a command — it’s not, like, harming you to be invited to something even if it’s something you don’t want to do, so, say your “Count me out for this one!” without assigning a bunch of extra anxiety and subtext to it. If you’re doing the inviting and getting turned down, try as much as you can to see “no” as permission to stop trying where this person is concerned. You’ve made a nice overture, it’s been refused, if further connection is going to happen, the other person will be the one to initiate it and at that time you can decide if it’s worth it to you to engage. You didn’t do anything wrong by asking, so, for now, accept the “no thanks!” tap out, disengage, and put your energy into relationships and connections where people say “yes!”

For a lot of us, it takes practice to unlearn or overcome socialization. I grew up in a house where “I feel sad today” or “I don’t like egg salad” was immediately met with “No you don’t” and “Of course you do” or “Don’t be ridiculous!” and I had to completely learn “No” from scratch as an adult. I definitely went through a phase of over-justifying and over-explaining every potential point of conflict that is so tell-tale in my fellow survivors. As a result, some nice therapist gave me this exercise and I’ll pass it on to all of you:

As an exercise, not just for the Letter Writer, what happens if we try to make our “No thanks!” or “I prefer not to” responses super-brief and simple this week, without apology or justification? (If this is too difficult or daunting, start with being more assertive with “yes” and expressing positive preferences, like, “Yes, I would like my bagel toasted, thanks.” Work up to “nope!” over time.) Start with low-stakes things, keep track of how often you say no (or yes!), how it feels, what you feel like the pressures and worries are, and what actually happens when you do.

Also as an exercise, what happens if we pay attention to the times we’re told “no”? How do we react? Do we accept it at face value? Do we expect the other person take care of our feelings? Do we bite the heads off people who tell us “no” or decide we hate them forever? What gender, race, class, or other power dynamics are at play in how we react?

I strongly believe that the easier we make “no” on ourselves and other people, the more we make room for “yes.”

C) For people who are persistently trying to friend you up, you might need to have an explicit conversation about that. Right before I started the blog there was a very nice woman that I knew through mutual friends. She was smart, cool, polite, interesting, friendly, generous, a great cook, really social, and I just…didn’t feel it where she was concerned. She put a lot of effort into friend-wooing me, inviting me to stuff all the time, and in at least one case sending surprise baked goods to my house (unfortunately right when I was leaving for a long trip away, so the “didja get the package yet? how ’bout now?‘ messages were extra…extra). I never invited her to a thing and I don’t bake or send care packages, but her kind overtures kept on coming. Sometimes I would try hanging out but when the day came I was never looking forward to whatever it was and mostly I felt guilty for not returning her friend-ardor.

Right around my Grampa’s death it came to a head, where her expressions of sympathy were sweet but whenever I’d see a(nother) “How…are…you?” or “Thinking of you!” message from her it would actively make me angry, like, ugh, we are NOT close, you didn’t know him, stop smothering me in your sympathy, I do not have the energy to feel guilty for declining one more brunch invitation! Not her fault at all, there was literally nothing wrong with her! But I felt how I felt, and I finally cut the cord with a message similar to this:

Hello, you are very kind and you haven’t done anything wrong, but I can see you trying very hard to be my friend and I just don’t feel the same way. I wish you well, I’ll be happy to catch up with you at [mutual friend] events and I promise I’ll do my best not to make it weird, but I don’t want to be friends.

And then she sent back such a cool “Hey, obviously I’m bummed but I get it, thanks for telling me” message that I almost, almost regretted my decision for a sec. Her cool reaction is one of the things that led me to start the blog, as in, hey, maybe it doesn’t have to be so hard if people can just be honest and give each other space and the benefit of the doubt.

Letter Writer, if you choose to go down the road of “Ignore request” or “Pass on the coffee! I like that color on you. Have you seen [Real Friend]?” and/or “You are very cool but I don’t want to be friends, can we just run into each other every now and then without the pressure to ‘catch up’ or be closer? Thanks,” you may deal with some people thinking that you’re mean or a jerk. I will now tell you the #1 secret for successfully extricating yourself from worrying about this:

Let. Them.

Let them think you’re standoffish, or a snob, or a jerk, or “too good” for them, or full of yourself, or whatever. Let them think whatever they want. You don’t want to be friends. You don’t like them. If they don’t like you in return, that’s actually a victory and you know they’ll stop bugging you to hang out. So let go of the need to be liked by people you don’t like, let go of the need to justify yourself or appear as the “good guy” in the story, don’t try to manage their feelings or their good opinion of you. Be a basic amount of polite when you do see them, understand if they want to avoid you for a while, and enjoy your them-free life the rest of the time.

Sometimes this will ripple through the social group, where the people you’ve turned down for coffee will say something to one of your actual friends and that person will say something to you. In that case, be as brief and direct as possible – drama thrives when it’s fed, and you want to starve it. Try:

  • There’s nothing wrong with X, but s/he was very enthusiastic about us being friends and I didn’t feel the same way
  • I know you like X a lot but I just didn’t want to be connected on Facebook.
  • X kept inviting me to coffee, and I never wanted to go, so finally I said something so we’d stop the cycle of me turning it down every single time we ran into each other.”
  • I don’t bear any lasting ill will, I certainly don’t want to influence your feelings about them or continue to hurt their feelings, I just wanted to disengage a bit.

Don’t apologize for refusing to get closer, but also do not get drawn into lengthy recitations of how much you dislike the person that could be repeated back. Your whole goal was to let it go, so, let it go!

Edited to Add: Thanks commenters, for bringing to light an important point that I forgot to address.

If you tell someone “Newp, don’t wanna be friends,” you are effectively severing that connection. You don’t get to hold that person “in reserve” for later. Leave them alone! Don’t try to spackle it over with jolly wishes, don’t be up in their social media business with your “likes”, don’t be sickly sweet to them when you do see them, don’t (true story, someone did this to me after dumping me as a friend) email them a year later about a job lead where they work or (true story, someone did this to me after dumping me as a friend) to ask if a mutual acquaintance is single. (Answer: 1) Hello, you should probably just email it directly to HR 2) Hello, you should probably just email it directly to that dude.)

I don’t think this is a problem for the Letter Writer, but it’s come up in comments enough that I think it’s worth making things clear. If you aren’t feeling it now but want to leave open the possibility that someday you will feel it (someday if you have more time, more emotional bandwidth, more open friend slots, someday if you get to know them better), use “soft” refusals forever and bear the intermediate passing discomfort unto yourself.








279 thoughts on “#977: “I just don’t want to be your friend:” “No thanks!” is NOT mean.

  1. I think a lot of the reason people think declining friendship is mean is that they assume it either means 1) “You are awful and a bad person, who would want to associate with you” or 2) “My life is already full of people who are better than you, you are beneath my interest.” Either of which would be really rude to tell someone! But declining an invitation, or declining the opportunity to make friends with someone, doesn’t actually have to come with either of those messages. (In fact, I think it rarely is intended to come with them. We’re just good at hearing things that people didn’t actually say, sometimes.)

    In my ideal world, if someone is pursuing me actively, I prefer to tell them I’m busy (which is generally true, regardless of whether I like them) and have them take the hint after a while. In the real world, most of the time this works, but some people don’t take hints well for whatever reason (no judgement here–different people communicate differently, that’s part of life). So it’s really good to have non-judgemental scripts to fall back on. I’ve used scripts similar to the “Hello, you’re very kind but…” one the Captain used, and they tend to go pretty well; I think pairing the “no thanks” with “you seem like a good person” helps overwrite some of the more negative things people read into rejections.

    1. I tend to translate “no” to mean “You have violated Unwritten But Super Obvious Social Rule X that everyone knows but you, and you should be ashamed of yourself.” I am autistic, so I am aware that I have severe social and communication deficits. Of course, that translation is not anyone’s problem but mine. It is my responsibility to just accept “no.”

      Thank you, Captain, for clarifying that “no” does not necessarily mean I violated some social protocol or other.

      1. I don’t think you’re misreading the general cultural code. The Captain is, here, proposing an alteration to that code, but if someone said “count me out for coffee, thanks” to my face, 90% of the time in my social context they’d be communicating censure – of the coffee, of coffee dates, of something I’d done. And in like 30% of cases they’d be communicating censure such that I’d be responsible for figuring out What I’d Done – thus provoking further questioning from me, a friendgroup excavation of hypothetical grudges, etc. I don’t think this is me being a boundary pusher. (I tend to fold up like a sensitive plant at even very light rejections, because my regional culture is not direct). I think this is genuinely from seeing many people use the frank rejection to communicate “you’ve done something dreadful and I’m waiting for you to apologize”. The next step they _often expect_, in this case, IS that friend excavation. (I think taking it at face value and going “oh, okay!” Is a good move in that context anyway, honestly, because ginning up drama is always a lousy option).

        In my real life, I think I’d mostly hear this in general if someone was about to share a long opinion on coffee and why they hated it, probably with some oversharing about their digestive health. So it could actually be a form of friend-flirting where they’re trying to create an opening for bonding-through-complaining. Maybe this is regional or cultural/subcultural. If I were going to engineer a hard no that worked in my context, I think it would genuinely have to be “Hey, you didn’t do anything and there’s nothing wrong with you as a friend, I’m just not feeling it, for whatever reason. You really didn’t do something to offend me! Just, like, I have limited time and energy and the chemistry isn’t there.” And honestly, it would go down easier here if you added on a meaningless, escape-of-air “sorry”. I _am_ sorry when that happens. It is sad that time is not infinite! It is sad that energy is not infinite! It is sad that not everyone can be loved boundlessly by everyone, as if they were a baby again in the arms of their mother. That’s the tragedy of moving from being a child to an adult, having to perform your own emotional self-sufficiency and find that in yourself instead of trusting the world to provide the love and emotional reinforcement that you need. It’s hard, and I’m sorry about it! But I’m not sorry that I’m avoiding talking to someone for an hour when they’re exhausting to me for compatibility reasons.

        Anyway, I suspect I’m about to get Told in comments, and that’s fair, I respect the Captain and am not trying to go after her advice – I just wanted to say that the reason you might be interpreting this sentence another way is that it’s more common, in my experience for people to mean it another way.

        1. In most cases, I would take “count me out for coffee, thanks” to mean that the person doesn’t want to hang out in coffee shops but is open to the possibility of other social activities. I’ve had people tell me explicitly that they don’t really do board games, but I had a great time going to the zoo with the same people. It would only be if they turned down several invites for different kinds of events that I would interpret it as being uninterested in interacting/unable to interact (bc of schedules, etc).

          I tend to give people lots of chances to get together before I stop trying, like probably a half dozen declined invites with no interaction in between. If they invite me to something or if we hang out at someone else’s event or if they explicitly say “I’m really busy but please keep trying!” that works as a reset. I don’t really count declined invites, but it keeps me from starting to think of them as someone who doesn’t seem interested/available. This is partly because I like being a social organizer and take declines easily, so it’s fairly low effort and low risk for me; and partly because I have enough people I’m trying to keep up with that these half dozen invites might take a year to materialize for any one new person, so I don’t worry too much about irritating them. Of course if they said please stop inviting them to things, I would respect that.

        2. Purps, I read many of the same things into this advice that you did.

          I think this goes into the ask/offer culture divide that’s been discussed on Captain Awkward before. What got my back up about the advice above was the implication that ask-style bluntness is *always* better, and ~why couldn’t we all just embrace that?~ I see a lot of frustration from commenters on this leter that reads the same way: “Other people communicate a different way than I do. How could I be expected to learn ~a different communication style~? Why isn’t it obvious to everyone that the way I communicate makes the most sense, and we should all use that method?” I mean, okay, that’s sarcastic, and I do recognize the pain of thinking someone is saying a totally different thing than what you thought you understood. But: learning to understand and communicate with people who have different assumptions is part of learning to understand and communicate, period.

          Both ask and offer cultures have fail-states and people who abuse their assumptions. One of fail states of an offer-style new-friendship dance is coming through clearly in the letter — when the information about the other person’s preferences is unspoken, it’s damn easy to ignore it if you don’t want to hear it. But ask-style cultures and communications ALSO have fail states, and it’s not just obtuseness that leads people to prefer not being direct.

          Moreover, I suspect that many of us are constantly moving between asking and offering, depending on with whom and about what and when we’re interacting, and how we’re feeling, and the phase of the moon, and the color of the Pope’s underwear, and what-have-you. There are some situations where being more assertive feels appropriate to me. There are some situations where taking hints and cues feels appropriate to me. Neither one works all the time in every situation in my life.

          Like: assertiveness and more indirect ways of saying something are both tools in your communication toolbox, and I would argue that a priori neither one of the tools is inferior to the other; it’s just whether you can deploy them effectively and in the appropriate situation.

          1. Thank you so much for saying this. I often wince at how close these discussions can come to being like, “Some cultures are right about communication and some are wrong.” I have a coworker and friend who comes from a country where saying “no” is very unusual and pretty much a nuclear option–but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a way of saying “no” that is effective. And yes, it took us some time to understand that “Ah, that would be… difficult” meant “no” and there were some misunderstandings along the way because of that. But what’s the alternative? “Your entire country is wrong and should do it like us”? Argh.

            (And sometimes you need the nuclear option. Sometimes you can’t get around it. But I think it’s useful to acknowledge that it is the nuclear option, and that there may be… er… unpleasant fallout.)

  2. Yeah: the people that translate “No thanks” into “So you’re saying I suck and should die?!!!” are actually a minority, and you probably can’t fix that anyway.

    1. LOVE this!! And if they ARE that kind of person, I def don’t want to be friends with them. Kinda like the litmus test for potential friendships.

      1. Some people are like that. Some people’s brainweasels are like that. I think it’s important to make a distinction between what people feel (which they cannot always control; you don’t know their history) and how people _behave_.

        1. For the purposes of this exercise it doesn’t really matter. As said above, declining friendship is not a judgement on their value as a person, and so it doesn’t matter whether their behaviour, brainweasels, history, chemistry or whatever is causing it, because you’re not blaming them. It’s just a fact that you two aren’t friends.

          1. And while that’s unfortunate for people who can’t control the response, shame-spiral, etc. those brain weasels are THEIRS with which to deal. The line between structuring social systems to accommodate people with physical or mental illness or disability and demanding that any individual person cater to the individual desires of a person who happens to have a physical or mental illness or disability is neither thin nor unclear.

          2. I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter, because everybody decides who they want to be friends with (and if they don’t want to be friends with vegetarians, people who die their hair, or people born on Friday the 13th, that’s their choice), but to me ‘I won’t be friends with people who find it hard to deal with rejection’ does come across as harsh. While I cannot say that presence of brainweasels (or simply someone coming on as too intense) has never made me step back from a would-be friendship, it’s not an automatic disqualification.

            I guess for me the question isn’t whether someone finds it hard to deal with rejection, but whether the person is creating drama, because the two are not the same.

          3. @Friendly Hipposcriff–Right. I mean, we’ve seen that all over the comments on different posts: someone says “I dislike people who repeatedly cancel plans at the last minute” or “I dislike people who are always late,” and there’s usually a long thread about how we need to be aware of how that disproportionately affects people with anxiety or depression or executive function disorder or whatever. And in all of those cases, it’s totally legit to say, “You know, I don’t actually care why you cancel at the last minute frequently/are always late/deal badly with rejection, it’s something that I personally don’t think I should have to deal with.” But I don’t think it’s so very different a thing, you know? They’re all very common side effects of socialization issues and/or mental health issues.

    2. I think women especially need to get better at saying no and taking a no. Just as we are conditioned to be gentle with out no’s and protect feelings, we often can be conditioned to not accept them from others. I recently met with a friendly acquaintance to talk to her about a potential position on a non profit board. She told me she was flattered but no, too many other things happening in her life. And she told me explicitly she was trying to get better about saying no. I told her I was going to be better about accepting it. And we had a great chat and catch up. Some people will respond super negatively to hearing no. Those people do suck. Don’t be them. Accept gracefully.

  3. This is pretty timely for me as I’ve just had a rash of complete strangers asking to be friends due to following my art online (and I also know a few perfectly lovely people who want to be closer than I have the energy for). Mostly I have chickened out of responding to these out-of-the-blue requests, while feeling really bad about my total lack of desire to make more friends than I have right now. Reassuring to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this!

    1. I can relate. For example, my Facebook is not a CaptainAwkward.com vector, it’s a Jennifer-vector. I’m not mad or offended when I get requests from readers there, but I’m also not obligated to accept them or cross those streams with work, family, high school friends, etc.

    2. As someone who added a bunch of fans without thinking/pre “follow” button, and now has a super crowded friends list where it’s difficult to keep track of my actual friends + fellow artists and oh my god the thought of going through it all and sorting it out makes me want to cry…. yeah, keep doing your thing. Don’t cross the streams. The “Follow” button on FB exists for a reason.

  4. This is such wise advice. I love that you also address the ways we respond to no; I think this is something where it’s best to heal your relationship with both sides of the transaction.

    I think one parallel idea the fact that there’s no clear cut way to end a friendship is that there’s no way to express “I don’t want to be friends with you” that doesn’t sound mean to a lot of people’s ears. So we tend to express it indirectly:

    * “I’m not able to do [specific thing you invited me to]” — which invites the problem solving behavior you mentioned

    * “I don’t hang out socially with co-workers”–which can be awkward if you ever do hang out with a different co-worker

    * “I’m really busy right now”–a bit vaguer but still leaves room for problem solving

    A good rule might be, if a friendship is not yet established, learn to respond to the above either as a hint they don’t want to hang out or in a way that puts the ball entirely in the other person’s court–“ok, let me know if you ever have more free time and want to do something.” (Not applicable to the “blanket ban” scenarios like “I don’t hang out with co-workers”.) And then actually let it stay in their court rather than vaulting over the net, grabbing the ball, and lobbing it back at them with yet more invitations.

    I have sort of an inverse problem in that I tend, especially when I am depressed, to assume all rejections of a specific thing are that kind of “soft no.” I hear my friends say “sorry, can’t make it to the yak shaving retreat this weekend” and hear “I hate you and our friendship is null and void, also you are boring and smell bad.” But this is 100% my problem to deal with and in this case, the difference is that there is an established friendship of many months or years and it therefore becomes safe to interpret statements like “I can’t do X specific thing” literally instead of as likely indirect rejections.

    1. when I get a “maybe it’s a real problem, or maybe it’s a no” situation I will sometimes ask them. Like “that’s totally real – let me know if you want me to find another time/loop you in next round/pick a place with GF food. but, I totally understand things get hectic, and no worries either way”. and i’ll just leave it there. like people who wanna see you are often gonna be like “yesss, please let me know next time/pick that GF place!” and other people I have given us each polite, plausible deniability that we are friendly and can drift away. i don’t wanna be the dull person, but i also have multiple experiences of people who functionally ghosted me for years because they had their own shit going on, but eventually became my actual best friends. so i try to be friendly, non pressuring, but also direct! it seems to work!

        1. yay, thanks! I LEARNED IT FROM YOU. like, maybe not directly, but the best, most successful social years of my life, came after i started reading this blog 😉

      1. I also am a huge fan of “you can invite literally anyone to any FB event for the rest of time with no negative social consequences for anyone if they ignore it” as long as you truly are invested in “no negative consequences for people who ignore you.” I have all sorts of interesting-ass people I thought I’d never see again come out of the woodworks that way. the key is like, you absolutely never ever can be like “OMG WHY DIDN’T YOU COME TO MY THING” because if you aren’t already 1:1 friends that is gonna be weiiiiird. you just send it into the universe and see who wants to pick up what you’re putting out.

        1. This is literally exactly what I did with my 30th birthday last weekend! And it worked out wonderfully! A few old friends/acquaintances didn’t show, but some new, awesome acquaintances (who I would love to turn into friends) did, and it was rad!(in addition to, y’know, solid, long-term close friends, of course). And yeah, no hard feelings from me. It was really cool to see who came out of said woodwork.

      2. Yup. This is also kind of a great way to suss out if someone is worth still putting energy towards – I recently ended a yearish long friendship because the “friend” suddenly started declining invitations in a way she’d never done before. After a few rounds of her weirdly declining invitations in a very uncharacteristic way, I asked her if being invited was stressing her out and did she want to be taken off group invites for a while?

        Her reaction was really bizarre – accusing me of starting drama and then bringing up a random incident from six months earlier that I didn’t really remember, so I just noped out of the friendship with a “wish you well, always happy to run into you, bye!” text. I really think something did happen that made her suddenly not want to be friends, but I don’t know what that was, she wouldn’t tell me, and I really don’t have the time or energy to devote to maintaining a relationship with someone who can’t use their words when there’s an issue.

        1. oof ya. i get people trying to delicately step around things, but when asked directly, that is the time to bring in the words, awkward or not! sorry that happened. i have had similar convos with people, and also there is a delicate balance, like – someone who invited me to their event that i couldn’t make it to, will def get 1-3 low pressure fb invites before i decide silence on their end is meaningful, or even more if we had a genuinely enthusiastic ‘fuck can’t make it but that event sounds dreamy’ convo. sometimes i have years of “inviting to each other’s events, never going, never acknwoledging” but the reciprocity is A Thing. people who maybe a lot and never show, keep getting invites as do people who take the time to leave “can’t this time, maybe next time” notes with their declines. like, it’s a little bit about honing the ability to judge someones emotional energy output so you can v. quickly reference that when making an event list. i actually think the age of the FB invite is a blessed because if you get it wrong, it’s so low stakes and not really harmful to the other person. sometimes i think people forget that invites like that really happen on two levels. like the FB invite is not how you get a party together, it’s how you pad the crowd. the core group is almost always negotiated privately/in advance.

          1. Yeah, she kind of had a history of never using her words/letting stuff fester (I had seen her do things like spend six-plus months complaining that a friend had forgotten to chip in for a portion of a birthday dinner…and it turns out she’d never reminded the friend, not even once, but complained about it bitterly, when I think her friend just legit forgot).

            I knew something had changed because the way she was turning down invitations changed abruptly – my friend group is in the habit of sending group emails/texts about events and generally maybe 2/3rds of us can make it, the rest are too busy or already have plans that weekend or whatever – we usually just get a critical mass and if you can make it great, if not, you’ll get another invite to something else in the future.

            My asking her if she wanted to be taken off the invites for a while was both an honest question (I went through a crazy travel period where getting invites really stressed me out because I wanted to go to all the things! and I couldn’t because I was out of town so much, but my friends knew and it was for a finite amount of time – ditto for friends working on large projects) and me giving her a chance to actually tell me what had happened, but when she chose to react that way I knew I was done putting energy towards that friendship.

            As someone with a not-inconsequential amount of anxiety, I personally can’t maintain relationships with people who aren’t able to let me know if they’re upset about something. I end up feeling like I’m on eggshells and it’s not worth it.

        2. Unfortunately I’m that friend who “can’t” use her words when it comes to ONE person in my friend-circle. He is heavily invested in the geek social fallacy of “I like these people so they should all like each other!” AND also views any soft no as the beginning of a negotiation instead of the “no” that it is. But because of friend circles I can’t just cut him out and be done with it. (Oh and he’s a massive extrovert who thinks introvert-me needs an extrovert to pull her out of the house against my will and then Suddenly I Will Not Be So Introverted and will be Much More Social.)

          So, he invites me to things. I say “no thank you.” He pings me on the day of the Thing I Declined An Invite To. I say no thank you, or I don’t respond. Every once in a while I say “maybe” to a Thing, and even more rarely, I go. Sometimes I ask if Person K and/or Person C – who he knows I don’t like for my own personal reasons that I have never been able to explain adequately to him (see again: start of a negotiation + Geek Social Fallacy) – will be there. He doesn’t respond, they’re not on the “yes I am coming” reply list on Facebook. I go; they’re there. I am uncomfortable, leading me to want to go to even FEWER of his events, leading him to plead with me to go more often even MORE.

          I stay silent beyond “no thank you” or “I’m busy”.

          This pattern repeats itself. I can’t chew him out because then I’ll be the One Creating Drama. I can’t unfriend him on Facebook because 1) I’m friends with his wife and like his dog, and his wife’s best friend is one of MY best friends (luckily Wife’s Best Friend – Person A – understands and is a receptive ear to my complaints about him), 2) See again: Drama.

          What’s funny is he’s a kinkster, a Daddy Dom at that, and I’ve been one of his little girls. (before TMI, no there was no sex involved in our relationship but I can’t speak to any of his other ones) He SHOULD understand consent. He SHOULD understand that No Means No, not Convince Me. In the space of Kink, he DOES understand this. But in “real life”? Nope.

          So. Yknow. Sometimes it’s not always that Friend Can’t Use Her Words, sometimes it’s Friend Has Been Put In A Situation Where She Feels Silenced And UNABLE To Use Her Words Effectively. Not saying this is what happened in your case, just putting it out there from the POV of someone on the other side of the text message. =(

          1. Thank you for providing an example of ‘it’s often more complicated’. All of this sounds very stressful 😦

          2. Just wanted to chime in with some Jedi Hugs <3. I've been in similar situations before, and it is EXHAUSTING.

          3. Friendly Hipposcriff – it is incredibly stressful, and I wish it wasn’t. =(

            walkingwhilefemale – *jedi hugs back* stressful friend situation solidarity

          4. In this case, I think you can just give yourself permission to not care about his reaction. You’ve explained, he knows the reason, it’s on him to manage his feelings. You’ve Used Your Words, now you can Use Your Ability To Just Ignore People And Not Turn Up But Be Friendly Acquaintances When You Run Into Them. Also you can mute people on Facebook and I highly recommend it.

          5. That sounds like an awful situation. Given that he won’t provide accurate info about whether people you want to avoid are at his events, it might be worth not even trying to go. I wonder if you would feel socially safe just saying something like “If I’ve already declined an invitation, it’s annoying to have you ping me again about it. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know” and then declining everything he invites you to.

            Another thing that might be okay to say is something along the lines of “I’m an introvert, and I need a lot of alone time. This isn’t a disorder or a flaw; it’s the way I am. Please stop trying to fix me.” My spouse and I are both introverts (though I’ve been turning ambivert lately) and it’s taken years for my spouse’s sibling to get it through their head that my spouse is not like them, does not want to be like them (though it’s fine that the sibling is an extravert!), and doesn’t need to be fixed. Reminders are still needed occasionally.

  5. I found this article to be great on so many levels. First, I remember so vividly the moment I realized a “friend” was NOT my friend–she really really did not like me. I was so light-bulb-going-on-in-my-head blown away by the insight (“So THAT’S why she behaves the way she does with me!” that I never even felt hurt or angry. I realized all my attempts at friendship were extremely annoying to her, and that’s not the person I want to be. I still feel no resentment, just grateful I finally got it.

    Second, when I recently had to step back from a draining friendship, the person’s reactions were so toxic, it made me grateful I’d done it NOW instead of a year from now, when we would have been more deeply intangled professionally. Their behavior confirmed my deepest thoughts about our relationship, and I have no regrets.

    Third, I come from a similar family background as Captain. Hearing that from a person whose wisdom I value, gives me permission to examine and question my own social quandries that continue to haunt me.

    So THANK YOU Not Your Friend and Captain, for sharing your stories. They help.

    1. I had a similar experience with ending a draining friendship. I’ve been happy with a polite ghosting. However, exhaustion from having to constantly set boundaries (and then manage the hurt feelings from my saying no!) meant that when some soft polite boundary-setting was repeatedly (and triggeringly!) ignored, I apparently wasn’t careful enough in using my words to protect myself. The fallout from that was toxic, but at least I’m free from that friendship now.

      1. So utterly this. Except the pointed shunning in community situations still feels pretty toxic when i encounter it….

  6. slightly OT, I once got an pot of violets during a less than morale boosting “morale boosting” exercise at work (bank of the wheat thin if you know what I mean). I’m not a plant person by any means. Still, didn’t want to throw it out or give it away because all the reasons. So I brought it home, put it on the counter… and the next morning discovered my cats had eaten the flowers, leaving an otherwise undisturbed pot of green leaves and stems that abruptly ended at the top.

    NOTE: African violets are not edible, only sweet ones. But that’s the only time I’ve ever had violets and my cats bit the heads off them and that totally boosted my morale 😀

    1. “bank of the wheat thin if you know what I mean” – I have no idea what you mean, and now I am wildly curious!

  7. Great advice but may be difficult to follow in a setting where there are a lot of other people, especially mutual friends. I’ve never been able to do it without a twinge of guilt.

    1. The twinge of guilt is real! I just happen to think that the guilt is survivable, as is being told “no!”

      1. > I just happen to think that the guilt is survivable

        All discomfort feelings are survivable. None of them seem to go away never to return, but I find that with practice, I get better managing my feelings of discomfort.

      2. Cool. So, I guess this means that I’m not actually a big bad meanie for recoiling at the one-line email I received totally out of the blue from a former coworker that said, in it’s entirety:

        “HEY!! Get on Facebook so I can see pictures of your son!!!”

        … which I promptly deleted.

        Good to know.

        1. I had a coworker get out his phone and ask me to get my fb profile up so he could friend me. which i then DID as I was in shock and now I have this unanswered friend request, and the residual guilt of not refusing in the first place. ahh, the socialisation of being ‘nice’!

          1. I’ve had this happen at social events; albeit not in contexts that I particularly minded, but a few rounds of ‘everybody get on your phones and bounce friend invites around!’ are the main reason I’ve got ‘wait…who were you again?’ folks showing up on my feed. Hazard of the times, just like ‘here’s my number on a napkin’ became ‘here, type my number into your phone…awesome, now call me so I’ve got yours!’.

    2. That guilt is the result of the socialization that tells you it’s WRONG. Experiencing it is, unfortunately, part of the resocialization process. My experiences on this front, as someone socialized (mostly) cis-male, White, and relatively wealthy, has been in challenging men, White people, wealthy people, etc. on their sexist, racist, classist, etc. bullshit, in the moment, to their faces. It’s terrifying, and also necessary, and it gets a lot easier with practice. That said, I have the advantage of them being socialized to seek my approval as much as I’ve been socialized to seek theirs (in the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team, they are the ball), so I still have some social armor even when it feels like I’m sticking my neck out, but I know it’s possible to eventually reprogram that initial response.

  8. Saying NO to these things is hard, but I am in the process of levelling up that particular skill and I can tell you it really does get easier!

    I can look through my message history and see a measurable reduction in “needlessly detailed explanations for refusing”, for instance. Still not perfect, and probably will never be, and for some reason “can’t – busy” just flows so much easier than “You have way more energy for this relationship than I care to reciprocate”, but it really really does get easier over time.

    1. That’s awesome! I am also reducing needlessly detailed explanations for all sorts of things! I love having an interaction, then looking back on it and realizing it was a level up!
      I am still proud of that one mutual “friend” of everyone I know that came to my first party involving the group and never talking to me, cornering my friend for hours in the kitchen to rant about how evil men are, then shame someone else (she doesn’t know) for not riding a well-fitted bike (she’s an evangelist). I decided to never invite her again and not be fb friends and not ever get closer….it was great! I got a few questions-ish from the social fallacy friend group and I was like, “we’re not friends and I’m fine with keeping it that way!” and they let it go! It was awesome!

      1. What on earth is a well-fitted bike, and what does it have to do with being a hard-core Christian? I’m curious about that part of your comment.

      2. Caveat: I am quite certain that wasn’t me.

        I can totally see it and am making noises of grwat sympathy, in that I feel I would enjoy your company hugely and also she and I are potentially sisters under the skin (the men thing I would have to be in a very specific mood which I do not enjoy, but I worry enough about people’s knees and shoulders that only the power of the manners I learned at Gran’s knee keeps me from adjusting people’s bikes at parties sometimes) but … not at the same party, no. This is why weekends have two evenings, I feel.

  9. Speaking from the other side, I’m becoming a bit of an organizer friend, as I try to build up a crew in my new city. I organize a regular sport for nerds thing. Just this weekend, a friend of mine who came clearly wasn’t having a great time–and then rolled his ankle pretty badly and went home. When I asked how he was doing later, he directly told me to just count him out for future events like this. In this case I asked him why, in case there was a missing stair situation or something that would make other people uncomfortable, but he told me it was his ankle and that he just wasn’t into it anymore.

    It was super refreshing!!!! He doesn’t have to fend off further invitations, I don’t have to watch him closely and worry that he’s not enjoying himself anymore, and he can actively tell me if he wants back in. I obviously feel bad he was injured, and the kind of GSF bummed of “aw he doesn’t like a thing I like!” But he handled it directly and gracefully, and I really appreciated it. Boundaries are good as hell, particularly when they’re clearly and kindly defined.

    And “count me out for x” is a pretty good script imo 🙂

  10. One friendly amendment to this advice – I’m from a culture where these invitations at the end of a conversation *can* be more of a “it was so nice to see you!” than an actual invitation. Everyone pretty much knows that and proceeds accordingly.

    To me, any invitation without a specific place and time attached is more of an, “Ah, I like you as a person and wish you well” that creates zero expectation of follow-up.

    I usually coast through the end-of-conversation “We should get coffee sometime!” with a warm smile and an “Yes, it was so nice to see you. I’ll see you around!” Not committing, not encouraging, but re-affirming the “yes, we just had a pleasant enough conversation and I wish you well” sentiment.

    Of course, if they do follow up with an actual invitation – specific, with dates and times, the “no thanks” with a kind smile is perfect. But I do think that an abrupt “No, thanks” in the above context might not hit the right note.

    1. The LW’s situation seems to involve people who are pursuing her pretty hard with specific dates and follow-ups, but yes, in general, this is good advice when dealing with lukewarm acquaintances.

      I’m a real fan of “I’ll see you when I see you!” as a way of ending these interactions. It’s true, it’s neutral, and it communicates that I will be putting zero effort into making any future encounters happens.

      1. This is a great one! I use this with people I bump into and have nice conversations with at mutual-friend events, but have nothing beyond that with. It’s also great for when my calendar is just too busy and chaotic for me to even thing about finding the next expected Mutual Thing.

        1. With my friends and friendly acquaintances, I have long said “I’ll see you on the internet!” instead of bye.

          For people who I have no intention of friending online, I now say “I’ll see you another time / a different day”. This is mostly people who I see at weekly events – I don’t want to say “see you next week!” and accidentally pressure someone into coming next week.

        2. I wrote this a few years ago after having to tell a few extremely persistent people that a) we weren’t friends, b) I was not going to become their friend and c) no, there is no way to LOGIC or reason or convince me to be your friend and I’m not being rude, unfair or morally wrong for not wanting your friendship yetanotherlefty.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/no-one-owes-you-friendship/

    2. Currently living in one of these cultures, and they’re hell for anyone who wasn’t socialized properly (yay social anxiety-inducing toxic parents!). I love the Captain’s scripts, as they also apply to these types of cultures.

      1. I respectfully suggest that if the Captain is looking for book title ideas, Global Mobility and its Social Discontents has potential.

        In that a non-small number of the things that come up here have at least some relationship to people from different — nanocultures? — trying to socialize/work/live together comfortably.

  11. There was a facebook pass-along a while ago about how great it is to continue asking depressed friends out even when they turn you down. I’ve looked it up and see the quote attributed to Amy S Paegel: “Just because I said no to an invitation (or two or three) doesn’t mean I want you to stop inviting me. Just because I look OK doesn’t mean I don’t need your help.” The guy who posted it to his facebook page must have meant it kindly, but even when I saw it, I wondered how you were supposed to communicate NO when saying NO evidently meant keep inviting me.

    I think a lot of people rack up thousands of facebook friends because they see facebook as a way of advertising their lives. They want to broadcast to you what they’re doing while never taking an interest in anything you post. If they do take an interest, it’s to like everything you post without commenting. That gives me the feeling that they’re watching my every move with rapt attention and starry eyes. I give those folks a try, then quietly unfriend them.

    1. The thing here is it’s about asking a depressed friend , where you might have that specific talk about depression and what you need and how you want to handle invitations, not a person who you barely know where you’re both trying to read unwritten “cues.” If I’m in a depressive episode the very last thing I want are repeat invitations from new people! But from close friends? Maybe so, in which case, we will communicate about it somehow.

    2. I think that’s really great advice *if you’ve known them in a more social phase and know that they do, in fact, enjoy your company.* Like, for old friends? It’s great advice.

      Even better, make a pact with friends when you’re both functioning well. Discuss what works for less good times.

      I had some health challenges this year that led to me telling a FEW people, “look,I can’t plan ahead right now, I don’t know how I’ll feel a given day. Hit me up for last-minute coffee, etc?”

      I do not want new friends or all my friends doing this.

      1. I totally agree with the Captain that this can be really helpful for people you’ve discussed it with (I definitely appreciate getting invites that I can’t make it to because of anxiety and/or grad-school).

        Unfortunately I have definitely seen posts like that being spread around like general advice.

        Ei. “Your depressed friend can’t be expected to tell you they need help, you have to keep “reaching out” (ei, badgering) or whatever happens to them is on you.”

    3. I know I personally appreciate when friends keep inviting me to things instead of phasing me out, and I do the same for friends I know are depressed or otherwise not fully abled (or legit really busy all the time). But as mentioned, they are people I’m friends with and have known for a while, and sometimes I follow up with “are these constant invitations annoying” and sometimes I’m told yes but usually not. It’s so situational and full of nuance which those kinds of memes and infographics don’t take into account… or have the context stripped from them. It’s frustrating.

    4. I don’t have depression experience, but if someone turned down several of my invitations and I still wanted to express closeness, I might try replacing “Want to get coffee?” with “Saw a yellow finch today and it made me think of that time we set up the birdfeeder” or “I told my new boss your cruise ship parrot joke, and she laughed a lot.”

      1. Speaking as someone who does, I just teared up a little bit thinking of friends doing this for me when I ghost–it would mean a lot! This is great advice.

      2. This is a lovely way to maintain a connection without the pressure or expectation for it to be anything more than fond feelings 🙂

      3. As a depressed person, I love this approach. If I was in an episode and my friends messaged me something like that it would really make me feel cared about.

        Also, is your yellow finch anecdote a coincidence or is it related to your username being the name of a species of yellow finch? (I may be reading too deep into this!)

        1. Just a coincidence, but because I’m bad at keeping the thistles under control, I’m surrounded by finches.

    5. I see this type of advice a lot, and I think it can be helpful, but it can also be *really* hard for those of us with rejection-brainweasels to do. If I get turned down for an invitation two or three times with no attempt from the other person to schedule something or get in touch first, I’m sorry, but I am *not* going to keep asking them unless we are *extremely* close and have previously had a very explicit conversation about this. I think that asking somebody else to sign up for repeated rejections, and if they don’t they aren’t being supportive of depression etc. is not fair (not that anyone here says this, it’s just a theme I see in those quick little memes a lot of people like. Which I get, because they are short and don’t explore the whole issue . . .)

      1. I agree. And sometimes people are depressed and DO want space. I’ll continue to invite and contact friends who are chronically ill/depressed, but I do it infrequently, not regularly.

      2. This! I don’t deal well with rejection. I mean, outwardly I do, because I’m a reasonably-socialized adult, but I am literally a ‘go home and cry into a pillow afterward’ kind of person even over mild rejection. To keep reaching out to someone who repeatedly rejects me sounds like literal torture.

    6. A lot of people have already addressed this, and I agree with their conclusions, and can only add that I think it’s an example of how depression and other mental illnesses can’t be easily generalised, and therefore don’t make great facebook shares! I would be bothered if I saw this too.

      It sounds like he was just sharing it along because he thought it was a nice sentiment, but I guess there’s the possibility he suffers from depression and may have been trying to ‘send a message’ with it, which I’ll go into more detail because it’s the kind of thing I might do. (To be clear, doing this is a terrible idea! And no one should feel obliged to do anything when they see someone doing this kind of thing.)

      As a depressed person, I have considered doing this kind of ‘vagueing’ where instead of trying to reach out to your closer friends individually to try and make plans, because it feels so hard and the fear of rejection is so huge, you throw something like this quote out there and hope that the right people see it and touch base with you. The reason I have luckily managed to resist doing this (in THIS depressive episode, anyway) is that I know from experience it doesn’t work. The people you really want to touch base with you invariably don’t, which leads to resentment and assuming they saw it and decided not to bother with you (when in reality they probably didn’t see it or didn’t register it), and some people who you have on facebook but don’t know very well will very likely be the ones who do touch base. This is then hard to handle because you have to say something nice and reassuring about how you are doing, and you don’t know them well enough to confide in them. It SUCKS, but really the only thing to do is the thing that feels the most impossible: reach out to your closer friends individually. I know I’m not ready to deal with the emotions of the probably accidentally upsetting things they might say, so I haven’t reached out to anyone in a loooong time. But it’s better than the really, really awkward time when I posted a vague status after I’d just moved that said ‘anyone want to come and visit me in [new town]?’ instead of actually inviting people and planning something. Two ex-colleagues of mine started planning how they were going to meet up with me, complete with date, while I was away from facebook and when I came back I had to say ‘I’m working that day!’ Which I was, but it was a good excuse because really I didn’t want to see these particular ex-colleagues that much. That would have been difficult to explain. This is what happens when you vague- don’t vague kids! This has been a PSA.

  12. Thank you so much for this post! I wish we could be as explicit about friendships as we are about romantic relationships. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just ask someone, “Will you be friends with me?” like when we were 5?

    I did once give someone the, “I don’t really know you and I’m not looking for new friends” talk when I was in high school. The situation was a bit different because I had just turned him down for a date and then he wanted to hang out as friends which made me feel uncomfortable (like he was trying to friendzone himself). Sending the message was really awkward, but not as awkward as hanging out with this guy.

    It seems like your advice for dating that people who are interested in you will act like it also applies to friendships and hearing “no” for an answer. When an acquaintance asks to hang out and I can’t make the specific invite but am generally interested in being friends, I make a point of making that really clear. I will usually text back something along the lines of, “Unfortunately I’m busy tonight but I would love to hang out another night.”

    1. re: your final paragraph – I wish everyone did the same as you! Then we could all take the soft-no “I’m sorry, I can’t, I have to wash my cat that day” as the polite rejection it really is without wondering whether we missed out on a potentially great hang-out…

  13. I would suggest ignoring any friend request you don’t think you’ll ever accept, because (afaik) they can’t resent the request unless you decline. If you decline the invite they can continue to ask you to be FB friends time and time again (until you ignore it).

    1. They can withdraw the request and send it again. I’m not sure if it would show up as a new notification for the recipient, but I’m guessing yes.

    2. you can mark it as spam and then they can’t send you another request I’ve had to do this from time to time. Or you could just block the person if need be as long as you know what their name is on there.

  14. I don’t know if friending as an adult is harder than it is as a kid or if I’ve never been particularly good at it. I know that I was raised basically with the mantra of “Everybody has to be each other’s friends” which is hard to shake even to this day, and I wish that our society more skewed to the “Honesty isn’t mean in and of itself and it’s up to the individual to manage their own feelings” way of doing things.

    I remember being with a friend as a kid and going to another girl’s house to I vite her to play with us. The girl very politely said that she didn’t want to play that day. As we were walking away, my friend was livid. She thought the girl had been very rude. And inside I was marveling at the concept of being able to say no just because you didn’t feel like it.

  15. Dear LW,

    My favorite part of this advice is “Let them.”

    Recognizing that I have no control of how others feel was liberating for me. I hope it will be for you.

  16. I actually DO have a script for this exact situation, on those occasions when you have to say Yes or No to someone’s face. (I have also used it for romantic proposals.) I’m pretty sure I stole it from Lord Peter Wimsey and modified it freely.

    It is this:

    “If genuine admiration and respect were enough to make a friendship/romance, we’d be all set. Unfortunately, it’s not, and I am just not able to return your feelings.”

    This is, obviously, for people whose behaviour has been excellent, and who you wish to be kind to while also being firm. Pushy/creepy people do not get this script. IOW the admiration and respect part has to be at least 75 percent sincere.

  17. Great advice, Captain! This came up recently in my life. Someone who wants to be my friend invited me twice to a monthly event that I wasn’t interested in. After dodging a couple of times, I responded “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’d say count me out of [event]!” It worked well in that I stopped getting invites, and I haven’t seen this not-friend since. No idea if she thinks I’m rude for it, but I’m ok with it if she does.

  18. I am currently in the process of trying NOT to be friends with a White woman at my job. She is simply not the kind of woman I want to be friends with. I don’t see her all the time, but when I do, its a delicate dance of being friendly enough, but not actually being rude. I speak when she speaks, give one world answers, and remain unfailingly polite, “Excuse me; Thank you, etc.” When she doesn’t speak, I don’t initiate it.

    I have found there are more than a few white people who want to be friends with me because they think a black friend is a nice accessory. I don’t even dislike her. I’m just indifferent to her overtures of friendship.

    She probably thinks I hate her as I have noted a marked change in her behavior towards me, as she has become low key snarky in my direction on occasion. If she keeps that up there is definitely going to be some dislike happening though.

    1. Ugh, so stressful, and then there is that super-stressful lens of racism where a black woman being like “Hey, no thanks” is seen as aggressive, angry, mean, etc. when no, it’s just neutral. Like, so much wasted mental energy on a person you don’t even like or care about! All my sympathies!

    2. That fucking sucks. 😦 I really, really hope she doesn’t escalate this any more, or decide that you hate her with associated problems for you. It’s all on her- she needs to be able to handle you not wanting to be her friend, without making you deal with the emotional fallout.

    3. Wow this is such childish behaviour. “What, you don’t like me? Well guess what – I don’t like YOU either!” It’s from the same book as the ‘you’re ugly anyway’ reply men give to women who reject their so-called advances.

  19. I recently moved to a new city in a new country with a whole new culture to understand. ..and I feel like I am getting the social stuff wrong all the time! Here people will say things on parting ways about getting a drink at the weekend or whatever and I’ve come to realise after a few weekends trying not to stare at my phone that they often don’t mean it at all. As posted down thread it’s a way of saying they like you rather than an actual concrete invitation. I actually think it is kinder to be blunt or not invite at all because for some people (hello lonely new in town girl) those invitations can mean something, perhaps too much, or in any case way more than they do to the one who is casually issuing…

    1. I agree that it’s confusing. Based on your feedback and my own experience, I do try not to do this myself. I’m just aware that it’s a baffling and common phenomenon where I live and that an abrupt “no thanks” would read as odd because the sentiment is more “nice to see you” than “let’s actually do a thing.” Particularly in a group.

      That said, as someone who also made a big move as an adult, sometimes folks who are fairly set in their patterns/routines may need to be invited the first time by you. All my friends here, I definitely made the first move. It’s awkward and some people said no, but the people who said yes ended up being people who did want to get to know me.

      I think the “end of conversation” ask is a red herring. It’s not useful information either way. If you really want to do something with someone, the only way to distill their actual feelings on that is to ask them.

      1. Useful script for follow-up: “You mentioned grabbing a drink sometime, do you want to put something on the calendar? Day/time/place?”

        If they say “Sorry, that doesn’t work”…full stop…with no follow-up or suggesting an alternate time, do not keep inviting. They may circle back to you when they have more time, it doesn’t mean they hate you, but it is a “Stop trying/Let it drop for now” signal. If they say “That doesn’t work, howabout something next week?” or “That doesn’t work, and I’m swamped just now, can you ask me again in a couple of weeks?” that’s an invitation to keep working on a plan.

        1. Also, this is key:

          If you get the “drop it” signal, let it go. Don’t agonize. Don’t try to imagine what you did wrong. Don’t monitor the person’s other social interactions. Let it gooooooooooo.

          1. Thank you for the great script…in fact with one person recently, that’s more or less what I did say: ‘do you still want to do that thing you mentioned?’ (They had suggested it) Answer: ‘ah yes let”s organise that tomorrow on the phone.’ Not wanting to be pushy, I left it to the other person, who never called. Feeling rejected, I then dropped out of a couple of events they were organising and got literally harassed on the phone/Internet until I agreed to meet them and discuss it. I can only surmise it was a control issue, or because they were more comfortable hanging out with me in a group, but this person often invites me for one on one coffee and we have big deep and meaningfuls. So I don’t understaaaand but I am trying to let it goooooo 🙂 I know that sometimes I have no better reason for not wanting to do something than just wanting to hang out in PJs, not wash and talk to the cat, but I do at least have the grace to cancel. When I asked this person why they never rang they said they didn’t know even though they thought about it. Sigh

    2. I have friends who relocated to the Pacific Northwest and they have explained to me that this is a thing. It doesn’t actually mean “let’s get a drink”, it’s supposed to mean that you like them / want to say hello / etc.? I don’t totally get it. In Philly, “let’s get a drink” means “let’s get a drink”, but we’re culturally a little more blunt.

    3. Ah yup, this is the culture in the city where I live and it’s criticized by newcomers and folks from other parts of the country as being cold and aloof. We’re not cold and aloof! We’re all just a little shy and super busy. My strategy when I actually like someone new I’ve met is following up the next day with a brief message like, “hey it was so nice to meet you, let’s grab that coffee sometime!” If they really meant the initial overture, they reply with scheduling information; if they just meant it as a generic “it was nice to meet you” they’ll follow up with something equally generic like, “for sure!” Good luck establishing a social group in your new city, I know it can be challenging!

      1. Yep. It’s very cultural. “We should get together sometime!” is an idiom where I am; it means “This was a reasonably pleasant interaction that is now ending.” An invitation has specifics attached. Cultures definitely vary in how indirect or blunt they are, and it’s not right or wrong but it’s different and can be difficult to adjust to. (I got the other side of that when I lived briefly in a much blunter culture and felt that people were making demands of me constantly!)

    4. Also you could put the ball in their court..”That sounds great! Send me a text/FB message if you want to set something up. Jane has my contact info.”

    5. I’ve lived in my current culture since I was 12 and I still find this aspect disorientating.

      FWIW, I’ve found being sincere after a “we should get coffee” to work.

      Like, “Actually, I’ve really been wanting to check out place and I’m free this weekend, should we set something up?” or “I’ve had such a winter slump, are you free at (time) to do (thing) because I really need to get out of the house”

      And judge from there. I’ll usually either get a yes, and thus a friend date. A no that actually seems based on date, or a softer no. I’m autistic and I understand “Ack, I’m really busy this week I can’t” as a soft no and I’ll generally leave it for them to reach out again if in case they were just busy. If it’s a “I’m busy, but how about other time?” I’ll also have a friend date

  20. What to do when these are a partner’s friend? In our old town, my partner very quickly hit it off with a new coworker. Coworker was new to the area and didn’t have a lot of friends, and this turned into lots of dinners with me, Partner, Coworker, and Coworker’s partner. I wasn’t busy and I did want friends, I was just… never that excited about these dinners, and the dynamic was definitely two couples hanging out- it would have been difficult both with the friends and my partner to beg off. Also, they decided that we were Best! Friends! basically instantly, which always gets my hackles up and I feel is not a unilateral pronouncement to make. (I was invited to their wedding approximately two hours after meeting them.)

    Anyways, we both moved away and I haven’t seen or talked to them since, so the problem mostly solved itself. The really difficult part was discussions with my partner where she would be hurt and confused that I didn’t like her best friend all that much, so there was pressure both from her and from my desire not to be mean. It’s still awkward when she talks about wanting to visit them. I hope I can take this to heart!

    1. I think there’s a negotiation to be done here along the lines of “I know you like Zelda, but she’s really not my cup of tea. I will do the occasional double-date with her and her partner as a favor to you, and I will be a good sport on those occasions, but I will not be the one initiating or planning these group hangouts. If you really love hanging out with this person please plan to do 90% of your hanging out without me, I’ll enjoy that time seeing friends you don’t like so much/pursuing hobbies/having happy alone timez.” If your partner won’t do this negotiation with you, that’s a partner problem, not a Zelda-problem. This applies to anything from “You love Game of Thrones and I hate it, so go to your friendwatch party alone and I’ll catch you later” to “You love karaoke and I hate it so I will go on your birthday as a favor but not once/week” to “I know you have to go to the office Christmas party and I will go with you as your date, but you’re on your own for happy hour.” I know some people have an expectation that couples will do every single thing together, but you can break that expectation if it doesn’t work for you!

    2. Booth has a friend who I find to be terribly annoying. He’s just loud and makes a lot of jokes. I can’t remember the show, but it’s the woman from the 90’s sitcom who kept yelling WASSSSSUP and making loud, dated jokes.

      I hang out with this friend on occasion, in groups. We don’t double date because he’s not partnered, and he lives far enough that I can tolerate our occasional meetings.

  21. LW, I was “the person you don´t want to be friends with”. I was in my twenties and she was my project partner, we shared two very good friends, and we four would hang constantly around. But she made me fell excluded. She was known for being a great hugger, and she would hug these friends all the time in front of me, and I would hunger for that body contact (insert here sad story of growing without friends during teens because of “school silent treatment”, which left me starved for normal, innocent, human touch). Every time I would initiate, the others would respond positively, but she would refuse. I noticed that she was always colder to me. And one day I broke down (insert here some academic pressure and anxiety… ah, and some melodramatic tears, I wasn´t my best that time) and I asked her why didn´t she like me / want to be friends with me. And she answered to me that she knew I was nice, because, see, the other two liked to have me around, but she didn´t feel the chemistry. That it was like liking strawberry syrup on your ice cream, you understand that you might love it, but other people hate it, and some others are just “meh” about strawberry syrup on ice cream. And that I was “meh” for her. That she didn´t hate me and she didn´t mind hanging out with me, but that I should understand that we would never be friends and, therefore, I couldn´t expect the friendlies from her.

    Life went on. I still watched and it hurt, but at least I stopped having the expectations that at some point she would give me that hug. On one hand, that was one of the cruelest things that someone has told me. But on the other hand, it was enlightening. Because I had been taught that, if I always did my best, everyone would like me and would want to be friends with me (and, if someone hated me, it was because I had done wrong with them). And she opened another possibility: that sometimes you just cannot control how other people see you or feel about you. It made my life easier. And it made things in my past more understandable and I stopped feeling guilty for being treated badly on occasions. I wished that someone had taught me that, and the fact that you should feel okay with it, earlier in life.

    I remember that woman now with fondness. I just wish that I could have asked with a bit more of grace, instead of cornering her with a feelingsdump. And I am also very thankful to her because she could have ostracised me, and instead she was honest.

    1. Wow what a great share. I really admire Your honesty- about your story, and even that way you stuck your neck out to get the honest truth out of the woman instead of dancing around the elephant in the room. Then you took your licks and learned a positive way of handing rejection.

    2. Can jedi hugs travel through time? This made me so sad for younger you. But also glad that you got to have that learning. Though I still think you deserve a hug.

      This made me think about why I hug people though. (It’s complicated because I don’t super love to be touched. But I also like to make other people feel happy and safe. I dunno. The weirdness is real.)

      1. Thank you! I have a soft spot for huggers. All my best friends are touchy-feely and it´s a pity that they are now all spread over the world because I miss them and their hugs. So your virtual hug is more than welcome! You learn that you never will get enough, so cherish every one of them!

  22. I don’t know if this is just my particular social circle, but I’ve found this has gotten much better with age. When I was in college or younger there was a subset of people who thought it was a Big Deal if you didn’t want to be besties with everyone who wasn’t actively an asshole. As I’ve gotten older, people are busier and have a toe in more distinct social circles, and there is more respect for the idea that not everyone has to be friends with everyone, and that “nice to each other at parties but not more than that” is a perfectly valid relationship to have with someone who you like but don’t want to make more space for in your life.

  23. LW, I feel like you asked my question for me. And I still feel like too much of a wimp to say No directly to nice people. I have several people in my life who do this constant attempt at friending thing and I can never quite put my finger on what it is that I don’t like about them, and because of that I feel bad turning them down.

    But, the truth is, usually after I spend time with them I start to figure out why my instincts were anti-them in the first place. Like, “Hey, it turns out that constant calling me to hang out thing is, in fact, a sign of unhealthy desperation!” and “That guy actually has not once asked me a question about myself in the twelve times we’ve hung out!”

    Socially-awkward people like me are sort of bad at feeling our feelings when they’re actually happening, and listening to them and trusting them. But it is totally possible for someone to look 100% good but not be good for you. And sometimes you know that without knowing how you know it. So good luck to both of us on acting on our feelings and Just Saying No. 🙂

  24. I was in the position of being the person who wanted to be friends with someone who didn’t. During law school, I had a class with a woman who was a year ahead and I was so interested in knowing her. She had taken the same overseas environmental classes I did (summer previous to me), we knew those same professors, and she was so funny and pulled together. I really wanted to be her friend.

    After a few invitations on my part, which she always declined, she made it clear she did not think much of me (or my opinions, I guess). I mentioned staying in touch with one professor from the overseas study, and if she (Potential Friend) remembered her. Potential Friend said Yes. I enthused over said professor, and mentioned Professor had been impressed with Potential Friend (which Professor had been, I wasn’t making that up. Professor saw in Potential Friend the same qualities I did). Potential Friend replied, “I thought Professor was sad and small-minded and self-centered. I’m -kind of- surprised you liked her. But I can see you guys hitting it off.”

    Take the above experience as one way to, maybe not?, let someone know you are not keen on being friends. Just one story, take for what you will.

    1. Ouch! The moral of this story is that Potential Friend was not as cool as you thought she was, so, good thing you didn’t get closer to her!

  25. Yikes! I am able to say “no thanks” to men these days, but I would struggle with saying a blunt “no” to a perfectly OK person. I’ve only been able to once things had escalated a bit and the person’s behaviour had become weird. Even when getting fed up and irritated insulates me against hurting the other person’s feelings, I still find “I” statements the most useful, so I think I could manage “Coffee won’t work for me”. Maybe I could say “I don’t want to get coffee, thanks”. I guess I am lucky that all the people I encounter understand the significance when I never have time!
    Good luck with the eager people, LW.

        1. FWIW, 100% of the people I’ve had to banish from friendship have been men. Men who had a more-than-friendly interest in me and who knew, but pretended like they didn’t know and/or could change my mind about the fact, that I had a strictly friendly interest in them. I feel ya!

  26. I, too, am mystified by all the Facebook requests I get from some friend-of-a-friend I met once, and they were nice, but I barely remember them. Clearly, there are people who try to add a Facebook friendship for everyone they have the vaguest connection to… If any of you reading this do so, can you explain why?

    1. I friended one, once, and six months later defriended because I knew I’d never see them again. Lo and behold, a year later I found out that this “friend-of-a-friend” was mad at me for defriending. I’m like, you gotta be kidding me.

      1. Here’s the true test:

        Facebook: It’s [blank]’s birthday today! Let [blank] know you’re thinking of them!
        Me: Uh, who is [blank].

        1. To be fair, at least half the time this happens it turns out that my “who is [blank]?” friend has changed their name because they got married or are doing residency matching or something. I’ve unfriended a bunch of people who I really did know because suddenly their profiles had a fake name and a picture of something that wasn’t their face. (WHICH IS WHY i think it is just way easier to keep a tight control on who can see your FB at all so you don’t have to do all this privacy stuff when you’re applying for jobs, but that’s just me!)

      2. Many people take these things really seriously! Once when I was feeling especially tired of the role Facebook was playing in my life, I decided to deactivate my account for a while. It was kind of a test to see whether I needed it, not a permanent thing or big decision, so I didn’t announce it, I just did it. My best friend was absolutely inundated with e-mails, texts, and FB messages from people asking if I was dead and/or if I was mad at them. One of those latter questions was from a lovely long-distance friend whom I hadn’t interacted with in months. What I could possibly have suddenly been mad at her about and unfriended her over remains a mystery to me.

        It turns out, I did miss out on invitations to events I cared about by not being on Facebook, so I’m back now, and still friends with that lovely long-distance friend both there and off-line. But it was a weird experience.

        1. Meetup is a nice replacement for Facebook to get/give invites to events – and you don’t get your screen clogged up with stupidity and drama.

    2. 1. I use Facebook for business purposes. I have a separate business page, but there’s overlap with my personal page (I do watercolor illustrations, so “interesting things I’m doing in my life” intersects with “things I might be selling”), and the more friends I have the more likely one of them is to notice the business page. This is the big reason I am friends with a lot of older ladies from my town. Facebook is also a tool for networking for jobs and housing, and frankly I think it’s probably more handy than LinkedIn for that because people feel more relaxed on Facebook.

      2. Certain people remind me of certain periods of time in my life, even if I don’t know them very well. “Oh hey, you’re that viola player from the workshop I did back in 2011. Man, that was a cool experience, wasn’t it?” I am literally not sure if I ever spoke to that woman beyond being introduced, but seeing her posts makes me happy because it reminds me of that workshop. (Also, she’s a concert musician. Her life is interesting. She wears fancy dresses and goes to cool places.)

      3. There is, sadly, no correlation between “how much I like and/or care about someone in meatspace” and “how good a Facebook friend they are.” Two of the people I enjoy most on my Facebook — because they post thoughtful statuses, interesting articles, cool photography, and artistic projects — are people that I respectively a. met once at a friend’s concert and b. was in a pre-freshman orientation program with for 1 singular week ten years ago. Many of my closer friends don’t really use Facebook, and most of my family are annoying on Facebook.

      4. Political networking. Not every event makes it onto my local Democrat or Indivisible pages. Also, my political organizing stuff is more likely to be seen if I’m also friends with several people in the group.

      5. I get a cheap high out of checking my friend count. Whoo! That is a number! That number is GREATER THAN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO WOULD FEEL GUILTY ABOUT UNFRIENDING ME! (That number is three, incidentally: mom, dad, grandma.)

      I mean . . . so long as someone’s not being snotty about not being accepted as a friend, or being unfriended, does it really matter how they use Facebook?

      1. Oh my gosh #3

        Some of my favorite Facebook friends are a combination of bloggers I have met at meetups, people that I haven’t seen since high school, and people I did one community theater show with.

        1. Yes! I have fb friends who post the best memes and hilarious stuff, but I don’t often see them or don’t necessarily even want to hang out with them heaps in real life.

      2. Ditto #3!

        One of my favorite Facebook friends is this 26-year-old (or so) guy that went to my church when he was a kid (I’m 57). His mom and I are in Bible study together. And she tells me that I talk to him more than she does.

        I think I sent him a friend request shortly after he graduated from college, as a way to coax him to feel more connected to the congregation.

        Turns out he posts really interesting stuff about transit, and he’s funny. He makes funny or smart comments on my word-geek stuff, and he and I share stuff we find with one another.

        And just now, one of his Facebook friends posted on his wall: “We have exactly 100 mutual friends–don’t defriend anybody and ruin it!” So I sent the other guy a friend request and pointed out that 101 was better–it was symmetrical. Now I’m having a ton of fun with THAT guy’s posts; he’s a hoot. And he apparently returns some of the regard–he’s commented on some of my stuff now and then.

      3. Ditto for #3.

        One of my favorite Facebook friends is this guy (he’s about 26 or 27) who attended my church when he was a kid (I’m 57). I think I sent him a friend request shortly after he graduated from college as a way to coax him into feeling more connected to the congregation.

        It turns out he’s very interesting and a ton of fun. He posts stuff about mass transit, which I find interesting, so I share similar stuff with him. Or computer programming. And he makes jokes that I enjoy and comment on.
        He frequently posts comments on my word-geek stuff, or the funny quips I put up. And he’ll share things with me sometimes.

        In fact, recently one of HIS friends posted on his wall, “We have exactly 100 mutual friends–don’t defriend anybody and ruin it!”
        So I sent THAT guy a friend request, and said, “101 is a better number; it’s symmetrical.” He accepted.
        And now I’m enjoying that guy’s posts. He’s even funnier than Lawrence, and he sometimes makes comments on some of my stuff too, so I think the two of them enjoy having me as a Facebook friend.

      4. totally agree with number three. I’ve even got facebook friends who I’ve never met in real life as they live in other countries or people I’ve met once but will most likly never see again but are interesting to interact with on the net.

    3. It’s not at all unusual in my circles for people to make a friend request on Facebook to someone they met at a friend’s party and enjoyed talking with. I definitely do this myself and have had it happen to me. For me, it provides a low-stakes way to continue getting to know each other through our posts and conversations and to keep the connection from falling off the map if we want to explore real life friendship. If someone from such a situation ignored or declined my request, though, I wouldn’t take it as a big deal or be hurt.

      1. This, exactly. If I kind of hit it off with someone somewhere, friending on facebook is a lowkey way to see whether that spark can become anything more.

        These days, more often than not, this happens to me at medieval recreation events, and I’ve found that in most cases it takes a few years and several we-are-both-physically-present events for the facebook friendship to turn into a real one; but it’s much harder for that friendship to take off with only the occasional events to go on. I’d be down a few seriously good friends without that tenuous facebook link in the developmental stage.

      2. I do this too! It actually seems less weird than asking for their phone number?

        My voice teacher is one such connection that I met at a party. 5 years later she is changing my liiiiife. (okay, my singing.)

        1. Well yeah, why would I ask for their phone number since I don’t call people? 😉 If we actually got to the point of doing something together, I’d probably ask for it so we could text along the lines of “I’m here, under the red overhang on the left as you walk in” but I definitely wouldn’t start with my least preferred form of communication. (Phone, that is. I text some of my out of town friends and a few local friends. Voice phone calls are for family and maybe very close friends if we haven’t been able to hang out in person lately. Skype is full of never.)

      3. I do this if I meet someone and enjoy their company. Sometimes they decline, sometimes we interact slightly on FB but never meet again, sometimes it’s one of the steps in building a friendship which might not have happened otherwise.

      4. Same! Getting someone’s Facebook is basically the same as getting a potential friend’s number for me at this point, though I think it might be a cultural/generational thing as well. I live abroad and whenever I meet someone interesting new here, that’s the accepted way of saying “you seem cool and let’s maybe hang out some time.” I’ve never had someone ask for my actual phone number.

        I’ve gotten super cavalier about asking people for their Facebook, and I think what you said about not being hurt about being rejected is the most important part – I never know if someone a) uses Facebook differently than I do and isn’t interested in staying in touch with a random acquaintance, or b) isn’t interested in being friends with me, which is also fine!

        I also travel a lot for work, so it’s a handy way of keeping in touch with people I’ve met in different areas (who also tend to be transient). It’s both a fun reminder of different parts of my life and nice if I’m back in town. I have acquaintances that I really like and have gotten to see unexpectedly because I put out a Facebook post saying I was in such-and-such a place and they responded.

        1. LW here. I really appreciate these musings about FB styles; it’s helpful to have some idea WHY people who seem like total randos might want to friend me, and that plenty of reasons are reasonably legitimate and not just “stalker ahoy!”

          1. well, someone you had a longish conversation with at a friend’s party is not a “rando.” At that point, they’re an acquaintance. They’ve been introduced to you by a mutual friend, and you have exchanged more than pleasantries.

      5. Same with the contra dance community. Really low key way to find out a little more about each other and possibly connect a little more outside of dances if mutually wanted, kind of saying “i could be open to that, let’s find out a little more”. Way less intense and definite than asking for a number or to plan an activity. I got to know one now very dear friend that way, when after a casual community friending, she posted “i’m going to this movie at this time, anyone else want to?” and i did. With others that FB connection has allowed me to see things that let me decide ‘just polite in community with this one’ without the awkwardness of finding out in real time that we would not be comfortable pals.

      6. Yes this! I also do this. If I like someone and want the possibility of continuing to get to know them and possibly be friends, and I don’t know when I might run into them in real life again, I might friend them on Facebook to keep that connection open. If they ignored my request I might be disappointed but I wouldn’t be angry at them.

    4. I don’t go for FB friends for people I barely know, but seconding what other people said about people I kinda know; sometimes the ones that I love reading most on FB are people I don’t know nearly as well in real life (for example I have a FB friend that I knew in high school but haven’t seen in the last 20 years and we never really hung out back then, but she’s witty and interesting online and I’m looking forward to seeing her in person at our 20th reunion this summer, whereas w/o FB I wouldn’t even have cared). I also find that for people that are super-close I’m going to know if they’re getting married/having a baby/going through other Big Life Changes, but for people that I don’t know as well (kids that I taught 10 years ago, for example), FB lets me stay in touch with them enough to see the greater brushstrokes of their life without having to see every tiny detail.

    5. Same! Getting someone’s Facebook is basically the same as getting a potential friend’s number for me at this point, though I think it might be a cultural/generational thing as well. I live abroad and whenever I meet someone interesting new here, that’s the accepted way of saying “you seem cool and let’s maybe hang out some time.” I’ve never had someone ask for my actual phone number.

      I’ve gotten super cavalier about asking people for their Facebook, and I think what you said about not being hurt about being rejected is the most important part – I never know if someone a) uses Facebook differently than I do and isn’t interested in staying in touch with a random acquaintance, or b) isn’t interested in being friends with me, which is also fine!

      I also travel a lot for work, so it’s a handy way of keeping in touch with people I’ve met in different areas (who also tend to be transient). It’s both a fun reminder of different parts of my life and nice if I’m back in town. I have acquaintances that I really like and have gotten to see unexpectedly because I put out a Facebook post saying I was in such-and-such a place and they responded.

      1. LW here – I really appreciate this sub-thread about different ways of using Facebook. It’s useful to know what the possible reasons might be for (what seems to me to be) a totally out of the blue friend request from a random person I met once, and that there are rationales that are perfectly reasonable and aren’t “stalker alert!”

    6. When I get those requests, I friend the person and write a personal note, a short one, asking something interesting about the person and revealing something of interest about me. When I (invariably) get no reply, I try again, maybe say something conversation starting in response to something they’ve posted (never just a like button). From there it’s 2 strikes and they’re defriended. I have no desire to be facebook friends with anyone who won’t talk to me otherwise. As to why they do it, that’s a mystery of facebook, why something feels friendly to them when all they’re doing is linking to articles they’ve read.

    7. Sometimes it’s a way to see if you want to get to know them more in real life. They can always unfriend me, or I can unfriend or hide them, if it turns out I don’t like them as much as I thought.

      I use Facebook that way sometimes–being your Facebook friend and looking at your vacation pictures does NOT mean I want to invite you over for dinner all the time.
      In fact, being my Facebook friend means we probably WON’T see each other much in real life.

      Sometimes it’s a way to create a channel for contact in the future (like, if I want to put a party together, I can reach you easily.

  27. I could have been the other person in my younger days I generally go by the 3 invites rule being that i will invite you out 3 specific times/places (as i too live in a place with “we should do lunch sometime” as a conversation ender) If it isnt accepted or there is no attempt to either reschedule or pick a different place I will not invite again, unless/until I receive a 1:1 invite from them.
    I think it is unfortunate as people become adults that we become closed off and unwilling to make additional friends. I think this is particularly hard for people who are taught if we are likable enough and put for the effort then people will like us.That said as I became and adult i had too take a long look at my relationships and culled anyone where all the effort seemed to come from me because a friend you have to chase is not a friend.

    1. “I think it is unfortunate as people become adults that we become closed off and unwilling to make additional friends” – I very much disagree. One of the healthiest things that has ever happened to me is learning that I didn’t need to make “additional friends” just because, or be open to new friends 100% of the time JUST IN CASE I miss out on someone good.

      Think of it like the job market. If a company’s not hiring, it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible candidate–it just means they don’t have an opening. It also doesn’t mean you can’t apply to other places that are hiring!

    2. There is so much I could say about this. Maybe I should write my own letter to CA about people who turn down/cancel/never commit to invitations, don’t do any of the inviting, generally make no effort with the friendship, and then still expect a friendship. I am totally the type to move on if I’m getting signals that the person is just not that into me, but apparently I’m supposed to be on standby for whenever they decide to briefly take an interest in me again. I’m a big meanie when I don’t respond to *their* overtures, that often come after YEARS of nothing. What even is that?

      1. No need to write a letter: DISENGAGE FROM THOSE PEOPLE.

        Stop working at being friends with them, and when they get back in touch, say, “No thanks!” Save your energy for people who do reciprocate and make an effort.

        1. This…

          …describes my two “closest,” like-family friends from high school. Well, one more than the other. It wasn’t as obvious when I lived far away, but now it comes back around every 6 months. “Are we really that close? Seriously, if I’m ‘like a sister; to you, why didn’t you make any effort to meet my new baby/bring your similarly aged kids to my oldest kid’s party/turn up at even one holiday open house?”

          I’d been chalking it up to drama from when her husband FB-blocked me years ago (he was “tired of seeing all the feminist stuff,” so…you know) and working on disengaging emotionally, at least. And I’ve been working on not letting it change how I act as her friend. She’d kept saying she wanted to meet the baby so I sort of forced the issue when I happened to be near her place one day. I dragged the poor little guy with me, too, to her 40th birthday party, instead of putting him to bed on time and getting some sleep myself. (He’s 5 months old, we also have a preschooler, and we have some unique life circumstances that leave me very, very tired.) I always invite her family to things, even though her husband basically hates me.

          It’s been little enough work, but it’s work, nonetheless. Meanwhile, the most helpful, there-for-me friend in my life right now is someone I don’t really gel with on any level.

          More to think about. Thanks, Cap! Carry on.

          1. You’re not alone in that particular boat. :/ I have someone I’ve known all my life, who still somehow has the label “best friend” under their name in my mental catalogue, whom I haven’t felt close with for years now. They have legitimate schedule/mental health issues, which I’ve tried to accommodate insofar as I can… but I also have schedule/mental health issues, including including the kind of brainweasels that turn their request to “just keep calling me (for weeks and possibly months) until I answer” into an endless cycle of active, painful rejection and damage to what little self-respect I still have. The alternative is that we’ll just never talk (which is largely where we’re at now, because the best I can do without hating myself is one unanswered call every few months, followed by a mental, “that was my try for this quarter, I’m done now”). I’ll see them for a few hours maybe once a year, during which I will ask with increasing bluntness whether they might prefer to drop the acquaintance; they’ll put on an enormous and apparently sincere show of equal parts regret, guilt, and affection, declare that they don’t ever want to give up the friendship, and offer up theoretical alternative means of communication and weekly catch-up talks we both know are never going to happen. I’m finally so tired of it all that I think our next talk (whenever it is) is going to be a “this does not feel like a friendship to me, and the current pattern makes me feel bad enough that I’m not willing to keep doing it; what do you want to do with that information?” talk… but I don’t have much hope, because I’ve tried various iterations of “I’m at the end of my rope” before, and every time I’ve been met with an enormous pushback about how they don’t want me to give up on the friendship, and I’m not sure I’m ready to go the ultimatum route (even if they chose “make a serious effort” over “friend-breakup,” I’d never trust that they were talking to me because they wanted to talk to me, and not because I threatened them with the end of our relationship if they didn’t, and that seems like a friendship-ender in itself).

            Meanwhile, the people who are present in my life… are not people I would choose, if I had other choices. They’re there largely because I have the LW’s problem – I have no idea how to tactfully let them know I’m not interested in being close, because gently turning down invitations/offers of help doesn’t seem to work – and because I do still need some fragments of social contact and support from someone, occasionally. Which makes me feel like a terrible person, like I’m doing a platonic version of leading them on by not telling them to shove off outright. But what else does one do, when the only options seem to be “put up with people I don’t particularly like or find interesting in exchange for not being totally isolated” or “slowly devolve into Gollumhood because the people whose company I want don’t seem to want mine, at least not enough to actually do anything about it”?

  28. Two months ago I bumped into a couple who I hadn’t seen in years. It was really nice to see them and I spent a while chatting and dancing with them.

    … then one of them asked for my Facebook. Which is all very well but I keep my Facebook down to ‘people I interact with personally on at least a monthly basis’ and ‘family who don’t annoy me’. And I didn’t know what to say. ‘no thank you’ didn’t occur to me.

    I might actually message them and ask to put them on my postcard rotation instead. I like postcards.


    1. I have had people say “woof, you know, I’m like NEVER on there, so I may not see your request for days/months’years” as a polite work around. Like, the person can add you if you want, but you’ve stated clearly you may never accept and given a reason why that’s not personal. Like, I’ve had that done to me, and gotten the idea, and had it be low friction, so that could work?

      1. This is my response. In my case, it’s pretty accurate (I don’t think I’ve looked at Facebook for at least 2-3 months).

        Sure, for someone I’m especially close to, I might make a special trip to accept their friend request–but only for people I REALLY care about.

    2. why do people “ask for your Facebook”? If they know your name, why don’t they just send you a friend request when you get home, and then you can reject it without having to explain.

      So-o-o awkward, to “ask for your Facebook”! I have never done that. It just seems silly.

      Also, if it happens, I suppose you could say, “Oh, I only use Facebook for family.” That might be a handy phrase.

      1. Some people don’t use their real names on Facebook, or are otherwise rendered more difficult to search for, or have a common enough name that searching for them is unimaginably difficult. However, Facebook also allows you to set a unique username (mine is a phrase I have tattooed on my person), so it can be easier to search that way.

        I’ve had enough conversations go “Hey, Brenda Lee, can I friend you on Facebook?” “Sure, I’m in there as Captain P. J. Trucker” that asking makes a whole lot of sense.

        Yes, I know Facebook has a “real name” policy. It doesn’t always take.

        1. I guess that makes sense; I don’t know that many people who do that, so I would never ask until after I’d really looked myself (including looking through the friends list of our mutual contacts).

          1. I think it’s partly a cultural thing. A lot of my friends have anonymous pictures, friends-only feeds, and limited searchability, so even being pretty sure that Xa Hildebrant is the Xa Hildebrant that I met at Brenda Lee’s party, it can feel awkward to send a facebook invite without being sure. And because of that, it’s become polite to ask if it’s okay to send a friend request before actually doing it.

      2. To give a slightly overly culturally specific argument for asking, I’m Irish, and it’s super common here for people who want to limit the amount of rando requests/stop people from finding them so easily to use the Irish-language version of their surname on Facebook- I do it myself! So I would generally ask someone what name they go by on Facebook if I wanted to friend them, because otherwise I might go looking for Rachel Murphy, that cool new (fictitious) friend I made at a party, on Facebook and have no luck because she’s down as Rachel Ní Mhurchú and therefore is not showing up when I search.

    3. “asked for my Facebook”

      What is with these people? I mean, who asks for your Facebook?
      You just go home, look them up on Facebook, and send them a friend request. Then they can accept or not without having to do it directly to your face.

      And if you don’t have a way to find out their last name, then don’t send them a friend request.
      I suppose you might say, “what is your full name again?” and “I’m going to send you a friend request,” but you can say, “Oh, good,” and still reject their friend request.

  29. i 100% get and understand the reasoning behind being direct, and forward and a “no” is so powerful. sometimes, though, that can feel really hard, even with great advice like the captain’s. this probably doesn’t work for everyone, but i am generally very upfront with everyone i meet that a) i am very busy b) i am mentally ill and have limited social spoons. like, everyone who knows me outside of work knows thism and i have definitely allowed the “wow, Megan is so! busy!” mystique to follow me around. and, like, those are both extremely true facts, but they are also a really convenient, yet immutable fall back when i feel that i desperately want to avoid the “well, not friends…ever” interaction. again, i totally get and respect that. but i have found “not now, and possibly never, for XYZ reasons” where XYZ is immutable, but not persona, like “i am a first year teacher and have no room for new relationships right now” can be really helpful.

    i think this is less great for equal power relationships, but i also really value this skill, because it has proven extremely useful in deflating all kinds of unwatned advances in my life. like – want me to do something that’s not in my job description. i will literally say “wow, that’s a great idea, and I’d _love_ to, but unfortunately I _absolutely cannot_ because of my schedule. Please talk to “XYZ supervisor” about rearranging my work load if you’d like!” or “Yes, definitely, I would LOVE to talk to you, creepy, sexist taxi cab driver, but unfortunately I CANNOT because I have a headache and therefore it is imperitive we sit in silence.” It’s kinda all about the tone, because I will broken record “sorry, but I have a headache, so I just need to be quiet right now” and 9 out of 10 times they will lapse into grumpy, golden silence, or whatever the desired behavior is.

    anyway, it’s possible this strategy is so golden to me i lean on it a little too much, but i do really appreciate the low friction way appealing to an immutable, external prohibitor resolves so many problems for me.

  30. As someone who is constantly worrying to people don’t actually like me, it’s actually *really helpful* when someone outright says “no, I don’t want to do that”, whether that’s them not liking movies or them not wanting to be friends. It hurts, yeah, but then it’s easier to believe that most of my friends probably really do want to hang out with me and aren’t just doing it to be nice.

  31. As someone with an anxiety disorder, and who has a deep seated irrational fear that maybe my friends actually don’t like me and are just putting up with me, I would like to sing the praises of straightforwardness and honesty from the highest mountaintop. The beauty of Captain Awkward’s advice is that, if we are honest and clear about who we don’t want to hang out with, we are all much more likely to end up hanging out with people we actually like (and who actually like us!) and nobody has to worry whether or not it’s real.

    From my perspective, a friend or partner who is able and willing to clearly communicate their wishes, especially when it means expressing displeasure or disagreement or refusal, is a huge source of relief and reassurance. Because when I see a person doing that, I know they can. I am able to relax the rest of the time and not worry, because I know they could and would say no if that’s what they meant. So I can beat back the anxiety trolls and not constantly worry and look for subtle signs of rejection. If I see you saying no, I will be able to believe you when you say yes.

    1. “From my perspective, a friend or partner who is able and willing to clearly communicate their wishes, especially when it means expressing displeasure or disagreement or refusal, is a huge source of relief and reassurance. Because when I see a person doing that, I know they can. I am able to relax the rest of the time and not worry, because I know they could and would say no if that’s what they meant. So I can beat back the anxiety trolls and not constantly worry and look for subtle signs of rejection. If I see you saying no, I will be able to believe you when you say yes.”

      Repeating that for truth!

  32. Ack, this is so timely for me too. There are a couple of people in my social circle who I like just fine, but am not really enthusiastic about one on one hangouts for them. But, I feel like being explicit about that is going to burn a bridge or seem like I actively dislike them, which, because I ;we hang out in groups and I will inevitably see them all the time, makes it really hard for me to figure out how to say “No, I don’t want to get coffee with you ever.” The polite dodge seems like the socially better way to handle this, or being constantly busy, but if that’s not working on someone just saying a “no thanks” — well, aaah, I don’t know if I can make myself do that! I really really wish there was a more commonly accepted social script about this. I’ve gotten just fine at turning down dates (well, I’m partnered now but when single) but turning down a *friendship* seems way way crueler somehow.

    I wish we could just hold up signs with numbers, so like “I like you a 4! Let’s hang out casually in big groups, be on each others’ social media, but not text and not hang out one on one” without it being weird. This is also complicated by the fact that I take a really long time to get to know people so often will know somebody for months/years before wanting to see them one on one, but don’t want to cut off that possibility because some of my best friends are people where we orbited each other for years and then randomly had an awesome conversation, or something.

    1. It would be really nice to feel comfortable saying “I don’t want to be friends right now, but I will absolutely get back with you if I change my mind later! (with the caveat that THEY are also welcome to not be interested at that time)

      1. Or, one would hope, the caveat that they are welcome to not be interested immediately. Absent clear mitigating circumstances (young children, certain medical procedures, taking the bar exams, etc) the expectation that I’d continue to be friendship-available to someone who’d rejected my offer of friendship would be a stone cold dealbreaker for me. I’m way too awesome to hope that someday I’ll be liberated from the deep freeze or fished out of the trash, and I would expect any friend of mine to respect my self-respect.

        Rejection is not wrong. It’s not cruel. That doesn’t mean it’s not pretty damn near permanent.

        1. Yeah . . . I concur.

          One thing that makes me kind of uncomfortable in this discussion is the fact that explicitly communicating, “I don’t want to be your friend, so stop trying,” is *not* part of any social norm. That doesn’t make it a bad thing, per se, but it does mean that statement is going to land with far more force than the standard brush-off. If someone said that to me, I’m going to have to process that, not only does this person not want to be my friend, they *so much* don’t want to be my friend that it was worth forcing themselves to say something that many/most people would find exceptionally uncomfortable.

          Like: I am 100% behind people saying, “No thanks on the coffee [subject change].” But I think you have to recognize that if you actually go to the effort of telling someone you are not interested in their friendship, that’s . . . a done deal. You don’t get to hold that person in reserve for later. If you’re expecting them to move on, you *also* need to move on from that door you closed.

          I mean, I’m a bitter, intermittently emotionally unstable person, but I also have some self-care routines in place. If someone told me that, I would manage my emotions by staying the fuck away from them. (This is also, incidentally, why I do not try for anything over a superficial friendship with anyone I *have* to see every single day. LEARNED THAT LESSON, BOY HOWDY. Also why I put very little effort into new acquaintances.) If the world is full of amazingly cool people, millions upon millions of them, whyyyyy would I put any effort toward *one human* who once made a point of telling me they weren’t interested. . .? (???)

          There are reasons why the indirect brush-off is a thing? It’s not just because our society delights in fucking people up (though it does that too.) It’s not applicable in the LW’s case, because clearly whoever is pursuing her as a friend is NOT TAKING THE HINT. But the indirect brush-off DOES save people’s feelings, and it does leave open the possibility of future relationships.

          1. I think this is all very apt and well-observed. Going past The Indirect Brush-off IS against social norms. The Indirect Brush-off can be a very good, face-saving thing!

            And if you get a direct brush-off, staying the fuck away is a good idea! That person DOESN’T get to hold you in reserve for later.

            When the Indirect Brush-off doesn’t work??? The lady in my story friend-chased me for like, a year. My soft “meh” was emphatically not heard. I’ve run into her exactly once since that time, at a friend’s party, and it was fine with a quick hello. We are not connected on any social media, I’ve never seen her again, I assume she has lovely friends now because she is very cool, and that’s all okay with me!

          2. I feel this comment so much. I’m seeing a lot of “people who get rejected need to deal with it and not take it personally” here, but not a lot of “people who reject need to deal with it” — in either event, you don’t get to manage the other person’s feelings! You can’t make someone be your friend–and you also can’t make someone feel 100% positively about you after you reject them. Obviously, if Rejected Party is then lashing out at Rejecting Party that’s a different situation, but the idea floating around that hurt feelings in response to rejection are Wrong and Unfair somehow strikes me as a little controlling.

          3. Yeah I think these are some important observations. And it’s why I wrote to the Captain, really. I can tell an actual total stranger to just eff off and not think twice about it, but when you are in the same social world as someone, breaking social norms to explicitly say “i don’t wanna” is going to create waaaaaves. And I really appreciate the Captain’s advice to just let people think you’re a jerk, but that’s more of a problem when the person who now thinks I am a jerk is friends with people who I don’t want to think I’m a jerk (and perhaps maybe feel the same about not-friend as I do but are like “I’m being nice and hanging out with them anyway because that’s what nice people do, what’s LW’s problem?)

          4. One thing that makes me kind of uncomfortable in this discussion is the fact that explicitly communicating, “I don’t want to be your friend, so stop trying,” is *not* part of any social norm. That doesn’t make it a bad thing, per se, but it does mean that statement is going to land with far more force than the standard brush-off.

            Yes. I’m struggling here too because I think this is exactly on point. (In fact, when I first read the advice, I was like, “…..but you should not do the direct make-it-clear-that-you-don’t-want-to-be-their-friend thing with anyone who you have to stay on reasonably good terms with–coworkers, in-laws, parents of your kids’ friends who you need to be able to arrange play dates with, your best friend’s other best friend, etc.–because your chances are better than 50% of burning that bridge to the fucking ground, and it’s unpleasant to have a coworker or whatever who actively dislikes you.” It doesn’t matter much whether you should be able to communicate that message without flames and tears; chances are good that you can’t. If you can’t afford to crash that relationship into an iceberg to sink with all hands lost, then you probably can’t be that clear about it.

            Because for better or for worse, it’s deeply socially non-normative to tell someone “I’m just not interested in being friends with you” in the vast majority of cases, and in the cases where you can do it, it’s almost always blatantly about some failing of theirs. (By this I mean, it’s socially okay to say, “I can’t be friends with you if you are going to insult me to my face” or “I can’t be friends with you because you killed that guy,” but those are not the same thing at all because they’re expressly about a judgment on the person, not just ‘not that into you.’)

            I think… I’m hesitant about this advice, because it would certainly be clearer if we lived one universe over where you could say “you seem niceish but I don’t actually have any interest in getting to know you, sorry” without major repercussions, but I don’t think we do. (I feel that way to some extent about a lot of ‘use your words’ advice, honestly; it may be worth doing, but it can carry a heavy cost, and people should be aware of that. Especially, especially, especially vulnerable populations.)

            And while socialization is a huge part of it, I think another part of it is simply that most of us do not in fact want to take a reasonably pleasant acquaintanceship and crash it into an iceberg, or light it on fire. It may be unpleasant if other people–people we do want to be or remain friends with–hear about it, because it’s not socially normal. And it’s also… sometimes it’s a lot easier and more pleasant for everyone involved to keep deferring and keep them at ‘pleasant acquaintance whose invitations to coffee I keep having to deflect’ than to light the bridge on fire and turn them from ‘pleasant acquaintance’ to ‘person who wants nothing to do with me now and probably dislikes me.’ Because while it might be nice if we lived in a world where it was common and acceptable to express that to people clearly… I don’t think we do, and acting that far outside social norms can have significant repercussions.

          5. Hey Turtle Candle, you pretty much said all the stuff I wanted to say, but in a gentler and more thoughtful manner. Thanks. ❤

          6. I think you can say:

            I don’t want to be closer friends than we are.

            Which has the advantage of saying, “I like you just fine,” but also says, “here’s where my limit is.”

          7. Yep. Done deal. If you close a door, it’s closed now and you take responsibility for having closed it.

            I got a slap-in-the-face NOPE from an acquaintance some months ago. She did it in a way that broke some (other) social norms and risked significantly inconveniencing me. Our NOPE is now mutual. If it had ended there– but no, she had to make it worse. It appears that she wants me to admire her from afar, and she wants me to WANT to be friends, but she doesn’t actually want to be friends. I Fuck Off; she baits me back and baits me back some more; I eventually take the bait; she acts disdainful; I Fuck Off again; and then she’s baaaaack. You know, I think I’ll go block her. Clearly she needs a little help moving on from the door she slammed.

            She’s absolutely within her rights not to want me as a friend; for my part, I have ways of living out my displeasure that are within my rights and pose no threat to my dignity. As it happens — and isn’t this just burning a hole in my metaphorical pocket — I have surprise inside information on how she’s sabotaging her career. It’s brutal enough that if she’d treated me as if I were worth respecting, I might well have given her the heads-up even if we weren’t friends per se. Now I smile a wide, shark-toothed smile: oh, honey, bless your heart, you’ll get no help from me.

            From what I hear lately, I am far from the first person who’s been stung by her behavior and has backed away hissing through a social smile. Now she’s moving through a landscape that is a lot colder to her than it needs to be, and she may never know why. I’ve seen her wonder why she isn’t getting certain things she wants. Well.

            A direct rejection is serious business. When you don’t take serious business seriously, unpredictable effects occur.

          8. @TootsNYC: I mean, you can *say* anything you like? But there’s nothing you can do to control someone else’s reaction to your words. You can decide “this is what *I think* a reasonable, mature person would do in response to my statement!” But people are not obligated to respond in the way you think they should.

            If someone told me “I don’t want to be better friends than we are,” I would start phasing out of interacting with that person in any but the most superficial of ways. A lot of times I am not looking for another casual friend. A lot of times I am looking for deeper connection. If I get the cue that it isn’t going to happen with a certain person, I’m going to move on entirely.

            Your reward for being direct is getting to have the boundary you want, not having the people you set the boundary with applaud you for being direct.

          9. @TootsNYC — Sure, say what you like. But if you were to say that to me, given that this isn’t my first rodeo, it would raise a small red flag: I’d wonder if you recognize that you can set a minimum distance but you cannot set a maximum distance. This is the difference between having boundaries and being controlling.

            When you successfully reject someone’s bid for friendship, even if what you want is to maintain the acquaintanceship as it is, you’ve changed the relationship by redefining yourself in their mind. They gambled on you; they lost; things are different now. It’s perfectly reasonable for them to treat an apparent potential friend differently from someone who is definitely not a potential friend.

        2. Emerging from lurking, and way late to the party, to agree. This goes, like, at least quadruple for established friendships. From an acquaintance, after a bit of time and distance I may be able to view, say, “I just don’t have the emotional energy to form friendships right now” fairly objectively and neutrally. From someone I have more emotional investment in and who’s actually gotten to know me, it hurts a lot more, and trust that it won’t happen again can’t be (re-)established.

          Commenting because there’s discourse about how to be rejected — and manage your feelings without making them the rejecter’s problem — and discourse about how to reject — and deal with a rejectee who’s refusing to be rejected. But I wish there was more on the liminal space between, in which the rejecter gets to declare all this distance but the rejectee does not, and in which the rejectee is expected to allow the rejecter backsies or even remain indefinitely open to the possibility thereof. It seems to indicate an egregious entitlement complex? I don’t know if this phenomenon is getting more common, if the growing awareness and discussion of How To Boundary is being manipulated by abusive people, or if I just attract this type. Regardless, I’ve been unequivocally dumped by two of these “friends” in the not-too-distant past, who didn’t exhibit the exact same pattern but shared the commonality of throwing an absolute shitfit to mutual friends after being quietly blocked on social media without fanfare.

          It sucks abominably to get dumped and to be the only party who’s acting like an adult about it. It’s a situation that can cause a lot of anxiety and IMO at least verges on gaslighting. Kinda suspect it’s a social dominance maneuver that’s oriented toward control? Anyway, I wish there was more info out there both on how to identify That Person earlier and how to deal with them when they reject you and blow up in your face when you’re like, “okay.”

          1. I’ve definitely seen the proliferation of ‘How to Dump Toxic Friends’ articles. Personally, I like to manage boundaries in ‘soft’ ways. I’ve been the dumped friend. I’ve also had to put distance between me and others that I ‘outgrew’ as a friend. As the dumped friend, that person doesn’t get to reconnect with me. Period. That bridge went down in flames. I’ve had someone ask me back into their life, and it’s definitely a social control move. I go with a soft no (and try to take hints better now) when I think a friendship may not be developing or will work better as a casual relationship. A hard no is serious business, and it’s straight up manipulative to say ‘I don’t want to be friends/hang out’ and then change your mind later when it’s convenient for you. I have ‘limited contact’ friends that I hang out with for specific events or in large groups, but I can distance myself otherwise.

      2. I think being explicit about “Newp, I don’t want to hang out ever” does preclude changing your mind later. If you think you might change your mind later, stick with the soft “Sorry, can’t make it this time, be well!” refusal.

  33. I’m having a similar issue, only the person I don’t want to be friends with is my mother-in-law. I like her ok, but she and my husband are not close, he is her only child, and she is determined to force a relationship. We spend time with her when we’ve put it off as long as we possibly can, but then comes the whining and the guilt, which only reinforces us not wanting to spend time with her, and the cycle continues.


    1. Dear Prudence (Mallory Ortberg) has said, regarding MIL / FIL issues, “maybe you have a spouse problem, not a MIL problem.” Not an unsolvable problem! Just, the basic premise is, primary boundary-setting and boundary-enforcing should be done by the person closest to the boundary-pusher. And then when he sets a boundary, you’ve got his back 🙂

      CA has a lot of scripts about boundaries, which are applicable for many kinds of relationships. Maybe going over some of those with your husband, and agreeing to practice them together, will help you have a less-stressful relationship with your MIL?

      Good luck!

      1. I’ve heard that one before (having a spouse problem vs a MIL problem) and it kind of doesn’t apply here; I think I have more of a “me” problem, because he just doesn’t respond or bow to the guilt, and I am a fixer and peacemaker, so when he enforces a boundary, I’m the one who has trouble. And honestly, she is perfectly nice, I just don’t want the kind of relationship that she does, and I don’t expect my husband to be the one to deliver that message to his mother.

  34. The idea of turning down anyone who wants to be friends is so hard for me, since I was so lonely growing up. I mean, I had some friends (and not particularly good for me friends), but I always felt like my family and their friends (and the friends’ kids) disliked me. I was starved for friendly overtures, because people around me too often seemed hostile. Looking back, I think a lot of it had to do with my older brother hating me, and since he was popular and outgoing, people just followed his lead, assuming I sucked without taking the time to get to know me. So, the idea of turning down any friendship is so alien to me, though I have done it. And my now estranged brother continues to rack up friends by the score, and never lacks for romantic company.

    1. ❤ It's sort of like, you're over-empathizing with the person you're rejecting. Normally empathy is a wonderful thing! But, in cases where you've gotta reject someone, you need to empathize with yourself the most.

      Sorry about your brother. That stings 😦

  35. This was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned and I started it off by doing it online, with someone I wasn’t socially connected to in physical life.* It was very clear she had never had someone say that even though there was nothing wrong with her, I just wasn’t feeling it. She did not take it well and would not leave me alone. I had to block her and when I did that she tried to get my friends to talk me into taking her off it. When that didn’t work, she made a new account to get around the block, which was a no-no, rules wise. I had to get a moderator to talk to her before she finally left me alone. I felt both annoyed AND guilty. It was hard but I learned a really useful lesson from it. Even IF the worst happens and someone overreacts, I could survive it. It wasn’t the end of the world. I’ve had to do it since then and that was the only time it went badly. Most people, I’ve found, are pretty reasonable. I, personally, hate being strung along more than anything else.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as discouraging because I don’t mean it to be! If it gets moderated, though, I do understand why 🙂

    *Side note: I have always disliked calling it “real life” as if things done online have no impact at all. Because of my health problems most of my interactions have been online. I spent the first five years pretty much all alone, until I discovered internet gaming and then forums and so on. The internet saved my sanity and probably my life!

  36. Oh, the facebook requests. Why do people toss these out like they’re candy? Nevermind, I know why – I know they’re not as big a deal to some people as they are to me. Which is fine, but for me a facebook request is a request to view pictures of my kid, my house, know where I live and all sorts of personal things. So… no, person I see twice a week for one month out of the year, we are not “friends”. Mostly I just let them sit there, because pending request means they can’t send more.

    Generally they don’t follow up, but some do; I either try “oh, was that you? I didn’t know who it was” or, if that doesn’t work, “Yeah, I’m super-private about facebook. I’m not even friends with my stepbrother on there anymore”. All of this requires thinking about the response in an awkward moment (that the other person created) of course, but it’s maybe easier for some people than ignoring the question entirely or having a long conversation about it right there in the middle of whatever you thought you were doing that day.

    1. I have a T-shirt that says “I would prefer not to.” Bartleby knew what he preferred; his dithering boss could have used Captain Awkward’s advice.

    2. I ended up in two different classes in college where that blasted story was part of the syllabus. What Bartleby needed was a steel pipe upside the head. Thank you for allowing me this rant.

  37. Re: ” I grew up in a house where “I feel sad today” or “I don’t like egg salad” was immediately met with “No you don’t” and “Of course you do” or “Don’t be ridiculous!” and I had to completely learn “No” from scratch as an adult. I definitely went through a phase of over-justifying and over-explaining every potential point of conflict that is so tell-tale in my fellow survivors.”

    Just wanted to say that this is horrifyingly familiar. Me, too. To the point where attempts to tell me what I think or like continued long past the point they should have, and recovering my “no” and owning my preferences without argument or apology still takes some practice.

    1. Same! We also had this little dance:

      “Guava, would you like chicken or pasta for your birthday dinner?”
      “I would like pasta, thanks.”
      “Well, I’m making chicken.”
      “Why? You know I don’t like chicken.”

      1. Wow. It’s like you know my mother, except she would look right at you and lie. “Mom, I want pizza from X place or Y place for my birthday. Not Z place.”

        She shows up with Z Place pizza, and then looks at me, and tells me that it’s X Place. Z serves square pizza and their freaking name is on the box ….

        1. It’s just a never-ending tide of little petty things that, combined, are awful. And because they are little, petty things, it’s difficult to even complain about them because you sound, well, petty. But it is a pattern.

          Age 6: “I don’t want to do outside when it is 110 degrees, I get heat sick and burn easily.” “Nonsense, you love playing outside and need Vitamin D. I’m going to lock you out of the house for five hours now.”

          Age 8: “I really don’t like yellow cake. Can I have white cake or chocolate cake for my birthday instead?” *gets yellow cake every single year for birthday for 25+ years*

          Age 9: “How do you know you hate asparagus unless you try it?” “I have tried it. I don’t like it. Also, it smells bad.” “I don’t smell anything bad. Besides, you haven’t tried MY asparagus. *heaps plate with asparagus*”

          Age 11: *examining two identical-but-for-color extremely dowdy dresses after three or four hours of having every other non-dowdy choice rejected, very tired* Well, I hate orange, so I guess the lavender one will do.” “That shade makes you look sallow. We’re getting the peach.”

          And on and on and on. All little, petty things, but all designed to contradict your opinions, feelings, self-knowledge, taste, etc.

          1. For what it’s worth, most of this sounds bad and more than petty (i.e. except the asparagus thing, which is still unkind).

          2. And yet, after years and years and years of being taught that our “no”s meant absolutely nothing, we were supposed to be so firm and unequivocal about shutting down a boy when he put his hands down our pants.

        2. Clearly there was some kind of Ira Levin / “Boys From Brazil” super-secret weird cloning project going on back in the day where we all managed to have these similar mothers (though I hope they are all 100% less Nazi).

      2. I thought I was the only person who had a mom like this. And on my birthday too – I wanted strawberry cake but apparently no one else in the family liked it, so mom my decided we were having chocolate. I’m still pissed about it too. There was all kinds of other stuff too, but the birthday cake thing really rankles for some reason.

        1. and here I still feel guilty, about 8 years later, because I thought my son LIKED chocolate cake, and I didn’t find out the truth until 3 birthdays had gone by.

      3. Not that you should have to, but when faced with those options, did you ever try answering with the option you didn’t like to see what would happen?

        I’m wondering if the person asking was being deliberately spiteful.

  38. I have had actual friends (in the past) who would introduce me to someone with the expectation that we would become friends, too. Not always, but more often than I would like to be true, this person would be someone that my actual friend didn’t really like all that much and they were hoping that WE would hit it off so they’d be able to cool their own friendship with the person.

    I have better boundaries now, but I remember WTFing on more than one occasion when someone would sort of friend-bomb me with a person they didn’t even like.

  39. Added bonus: these scripts are GOLDEN for use on the former-friend-turned-stalker who continues to invite my family and me to things in front of other people, in order to try to put us on the spot and make us look like assholes for avoiding her.

    Polite? Check. Non-negotiable? Check. And then, when she continues to push, I don’t look like the asshole anymore.
    Thank you!

    1. I’m still trying to get rid of someone who is not my friend. We used to be friends but grew very much apart and now the thought of having to speak to him makes me cringe and make yuck noises. He rebuffed my increasingly blunt declarations that I did not want to be friends, including me literally saying “I don’t want to be friends,” after which I blocked him on everything because he wouldn’t stop being like, BUT WHYYYYYYYYYYY?

      So of course a couple months after that he SAW ME WAITING IN LINE INSIDE A STORE and CAME IN WITH HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN to ask why we don’t talk anymore. I gave him the polite noncommittal brushoff because wife and kids, which I now regret.

      It’s not like he’s stalking me, it’s just that if he sees me in public he thinks it’s the perfect time to relitigate the fact that I don’t want to be friends. Now I have this nagging anxiety that if I go out for a walk on the weekend this dude is going to accost me with his BUT WHYYYYYYYY shit again.

      1. There is a very short distance between “refusing to hear ‘no'” and harassment, and it sounds to me like this guy made that leap a long time ago! I have all the side-eye for people who choose to ambush you in public in front of their kids or spouses or mutual acquaintances in order to conduct these inquisitions. I firmly believe that they’re trying to use social coercion by putting you on the spot to get the answers they want. I’m so sorry you are having to deal with that too.

      2. Wow, this dude may not be a stalker but he is veering into stalker territory. Should you see him, don’t make eye contact or reply to him. Treat him as any other weirdo harassing you in public. If he insists on following you/ harassing you, say ‘I’ve asked you to leave me alone!’ loud enough for other people to hear.
        You’ve explicitly stated that you want no further contact with this
        man and he’s violating that every time he approaches you. If he does it again, honestly, I’d make a police report. I know he may not be ‘scaring’ you, but he is making you feel scared.

        1. I always have the nuclear option of telling the truth. “WHYYYY?” “BECAUSE YOU MADE INAPPROPRIATE SEXUAL COMMENTS ABOUT ME IN FRONT OF MY FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES, AND PARTNER!” in front of his wife and young children would not be great for him.

      3. I recently ran into a former friend online, and she asked how I was, which is usually my cue to say, “Fine, and you?” so that she could talk about herself/her kids/her in-laws/her husband for an hour. This time I told her about all the big changes happening with me, and she just went, “Oh, wow!”, asked a few half-hearted followup questions, and started to go into her own thing, but didn’t have a chance to get deeply into it before it was time to log off. She hasn’t contacted me since.

        I have very few regrets about that. (I’ve, obviously, changed a lot, and I’m not going to put myself in the background so someone else can go on and on and on and on and ON about things that I have no interest in. I get some spotlight too, dammit! And if she doesn’t like that… *shrug*)

        1. Yes! To the dodging obvious conversation traps. I’ve been more actively doing this with a person I’m trying to drift away from being friends with. She’ll make some comment in chat about how she’ll be able to do stuff after all the “nightmare of university”, and it’s obvious she expected me to ask what was happening but I just… didn’t. Nope soz don’t feel like listening to you talk AT me for an hour about you and your life while ignoring mine, AGAIN.

  40. Longtime lurker especially interested in the navigating new friendships issue: I agree with those who have commented that it can be very helpful (if painful) to hear the truth when you are the one pursuing. In addition, I would love it if people would be clearer about what they are up for even if they want to be friends on some level.

    I am used to being the organizer and the more-extroverted in most of my friendships, and if I insisted on complete reciprocity, I would have much less social stuff going on, so I will be a bit persistent with people who are hard to schedule with but seem enthusiastic. And with newer friends, if they are saying yes to every second invitation and seeming to have a good time and maybe reaching out occasionally with a random text (or if a work friend, stopping by my cube to chat) but no invitation, I am so confused about whether I should keep trying. I suspect that some of these people like me enough that they would want to be friends if they were less busy, some like me enough but just don’t socialize much, and some don’t like me enough but are naturally friendly and too “nice” to say no. I am trying to figure out how to ask directly – something like “hey, I like hanging out with you and I could use more social time with awesome people but I can’t tell: do you want to that regularly or do you not have bandwidth for a new friend?” I don’t want to sound pushy or needy, but I want to put my energy where it will yield fruit, you know?

    If they enjoy seeing me every few months but probably will not be interested in getting closer or hanging out more often, I wish I knew that too. And I’m very confused by Facebook friend requests (but assume they don’t mean anything) and “we should have coffee” meaning “all the best!”

    1. Honestly, what you said sounds completely fine to me with a slight change to the middle part: “hey, I like hanging out with you and I’m trying to schedule some social time with awesome people but I can’t tell: do you want to that regularly or do you not have bandwidth for a new friend?”
      I don’t think that’s pushy as you’re giving them an out. I would only ask someone if I already met with them at least two times, but other than that I say go for it!

  41. I’ve done the African violet dance a few times myself, including once with an ex-boyfriend who would call me a few times every year, never ask anything about me, and talk for an hour about his academic, social, and career successes. The last straw came when he visited my city for a week without warning me in advance and then called me ON THE WAY OUT OF TOWN to tell me about all the things he had done. When I finally got a word in edge-wise, I had to explain his behavior to him and tell him that it was obvious to me that he didn’t actually want to be my friend and that I didn’t want to hear from him again. He was ASTONISHED. I was RELIEVED. Being direct is definitely the way to go.

    Years later he friended me on Facebook and sent me a message that said my de-friending had hurt a lot but made him think and that he understood why I did it. Now we have exactly the kind of relationship he always wanted: he can put his successes and experiences out there in the world, and I can ignore them any time I want. 🙂

  42. As someone on the other side, I’ve found it helpful to have a limit to the number of times I retry. If I ask someone to hang out and they say no they’re not ever going to be interested, I’ll leave them alone. If they say, “Hey, sounds great!” but turn me down 3 times without trying to reschedule I’ll say, “Hey, sounds like you’re busy, let me know if you’re free down the road.” (I have had some people do this when their lives got less crazy and we have a lovely friendship, but them never following up with me again is also okay.) The only one that ever left me completely confused (and very hurt) was a high school friend (or “friend”?) who kept inviting me to do stuff with her and then at the literal last minute (whatever was the very latest she could call me before leaving) would cancel. If she’d politely turned me down when I invited her out then I would have assumed she wasn’t interested and moved on, but it was much harder when SHE kept inviting me out and then cancelling so late. (Reader, we are no longer in touch.) I will say that I appreciate if someone is up-front about how they feel; even if it’s hurtful at the time that they don’t want to be friends, it frees me up to have other relationships. (And of course something like, “I can’t do The Weekly Event for the next couple of months but keep me on the mailing list and maybe someday before the end of time I’ll come,” is fine too, as long as it’s something – like a mailing list – that involves no significant effort on my part to keep them in the loop.)

    On an unrelated note, I’ve been wanting to share my African Violet story here for ages. I’ve been given (or purchased) all of these easy, simple, low-maintenance plants that have all died sad and lingering deaths…. EXCEPT for the African Violet given to me by a friend on my birthday a few years ago as a symbol of our friendship. It is still happy, flowery, and thriving. I think about this website and giggle a bit each time I water it, since it clearly meant the opposite of everything AV’s mean on here (and for the record, said friend and I are still good friends too).

    1. Yeah, normally I have trouble keeping plants alive, but my African Violets are thriving like crazy. All I do is water them every few days, although I’ve read that it’s important to water their roots without getting their leaves wet (since they’re very sensitive to rot). Maybe Seattle’s climate is especially good for them? I dunno.

  43. Doing a PhD has been amazing with helping me dodge unwanted social stuff. Everyone thinks PhDs are extremely hard work and that I’m studying 24/7. My PhD has actually been super chill and I have a lot of spare time. But they don’t know that 😀

    1. One day I ran into someone who had been a fairly good friend of my ex. The friend asked me if I ever talked to Ex, and when I said I didn’t, he said, “Oh, that’s a shame, I don’t either, he sort of dropped off the map.” Rather than go with the truth – “Don’t be sad, Ex is a butt” – I chose the more diplomatic, “Well, his PhD basically ate him. Maybe he’ll get in touch again when it’s over” – in the full and certain knowledge that barring a radical personality transplant, that wouldn’t happen.

  44. I actually just encouraged my daughter (soon turning 10) to do this, and it’s 100% because of reading Captain Awkward for so long now. She had a “friend” who she used to be very close to but had drifted apart from and was actually annoyed by, to the point where she would roll her eyes and grumble whenever this friend would call on the phone. BUT, my daughter would still accept all kinds of invites for sleepovers, etc. I finally sat my daughter down and said, “You know, it’s not actually being nice to keep hanging out with someone you don’t like and don’t really want to be friends with. It isn’t nice to accept invites to something you think will be fun (like, during sleepovers she would get to go out to eat and go to the park, etc. with the other girl and her family) but you actually hate your friend’s company. That’s sending mixed messages.”

    She understood what I was saying, so I encouraged her to either not answer the phone at all when the other girl called, or to answer, say no to the invitation, and cut the conversation short. My daughter panicked a little because soon after, the other girl asked her point-blank “You keep saying no to coming over, do you not want to be my friend?” She asked me how she should answer and I told her she wanted to be honest but not needlessly mean, and say something like, “I feel like we don’t like the same things anymore and I don’t want to hang out.” Of course the other girl was upset, but I told my daughter that the other girl would get over it and she would spend more of her time with kids who actually enjoyed her company.

    Then my daughter was anxious that the other girl would tell everyone that she was mean and wouldn’t be her friend, and that the other girls in their class would confront her. I reminded her again that the actual mean thing would be to pretend you liked someone when you didn’t, and that she should just tell these other classmates the same thing she told the girl (that they didn’t like the same things anymore and she didn’t want to hang out) and also that if these other girls were so concerned about it, THEY were welcome to be the other girl’s friend.

    My daughter told me after school the next day that the other girls did confront her on the playground and she handled it like I’d practiced with her. It was never a problem after that. I told her I was so proud of her for handling it the way she did and that she shouldn’t be afraid to tell people no or that other people would think she was mean, because (again) the real mean thing would be to pretend you like someone when you don’t. (We also had a talk about being polite but not friendly to people you don’t like when you have to work with them for some reason, since you can’t/shouldn’t always just be like “I don’t like you, go away.”)

    Sorry this is so long-winded, but I really feel the LW and others on having a hard time saying no to people without feeling mean. It’s because of Captain Awkward that I want to empower my kids to feel comfortable navigating these situations, and to know that sometimes, people just won’t like them, and sometimes they just won’t like someone, and that’s okay.

    1. Wow! Shoutout to your kiddo–that is a seriously tough conversation at any age, and she handled it like a champ.

    2. So proud of both of you, thanks for sharing this! I’m delighted for your daughter that she’s learning all this so early.

      Isn’t this community amazing? The Captain has really changed the way I communicate for the better and just overall empowered me to recognize and enforce my own boundaries and to respect others’ boundaries. This community has been a revelation for me.

  45. Well, I just wasted ten minutes writing a comment when The Captain had already covered every point; serves me right for writing before reading the whole thing. 😛

    Both the directness and letting (some) people think you’re a jerk for it are key – if people you don’t want to see think you’re a jerk and thus avoid you, that’s a big win.

    I love the CA origin story!

  46. About a year ago I volunteered for an event and had to do post-event settling up with another person. The woman started texting me weekly to get together and eventually I had coffee with her but it was not a match for me. She was very nice but she didn’t ask me anything about myself, my partner, interests–nothing. And she didn’t laugh or smile; it was eerie. I just made myself unavailable for a couple of invitations and she moved on. I know I wasn’t direct but I felt that she was very brittle and I felt I couldn’t tell the truth.

  47. I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to say “I don’t want to be your friend” without hurting feelings is because many people are brought up with this unspoken understanding that “friend” means “good person”. And if someone is “not your friend”, it’s because there is some active feud between the two of you.

    “Oh, that’s *Susan*. She’s not my friend. She rolled her eyes after something I said in a meeting once.”

    Something about our culture makes it very difficult for people to understand “Hey, I don’t know that person very well, but I’m ok with that. I don’t feel the need to get closer with them.”

    I have to say, though: as I read this, I kept thinking of other advice columns I’ve read where the LW was the one trying to make friends. It seems like this LW’s groupies could just be friendship-challenged people trying to follow the usual advice: reach out, invite them to things, etc.

    Obviously that doesn’t change the LW’s situation; the friend-seekers do need to back off and listen when she says no. It just seems like such a sucky situation for both parties.

    1. You remind me of my favorite example of an odd use of “friend.”

      At the dojo a long time acquaintance introduced me to her “good friend Name” and asked me to train with him.

      I did. In the dressing room I asked how she knew him. They’d introduced themselves five minutes before she introduced me.

    2. Yeah in a lot of these cases it absolutely seems like these not-friends are Doing Everything Right in terms of the usual advice on how to make friends, especially when new to town or new to a social group. All that advice about how to make friends sometimes dodges the fact that the friendship-challenged might be friendship-challenged for a reason. (not you though Captain, I love that you tell LWs when they need to fix something about themselves even while totally supporting them and their friendship goals!)

    3. My child was very careful to use the word “acquaintance” when speaking about people, or “other girl from camp,” and I realized that her father does too. They don’t use the word “friend” unless it’s someone they really, really like.

      I tend to use the word “friend” for everybody and just mentally add the caveat. I think the two of them have a better method, actually. It reminds them that there ARE other categories of “nice people that I know and feel comfortable around.”

      1. oooh, I like this. I will often call someone friend 5 min after meeting, even when I know I will never see them again and don’t feel that close. But I could benefit from naming things more accurately as a way to remind myself who my friends are.

      2. I was the same with my mother! She would refer to any kid from my school as “your friend Susie/Brian”, and as a super-literal kid that drove me up the wall. “She’s not my friend, mom!” “Whatever, sweetie, you know what I mean.”

  48. Speaking of awkward, it’s also pretty awkward when the relationship finally becomes so strained that you snap and say “STOP CONTACTING ME”. Not that I would know or anything. *cough*

    1. I also wouldn’t know or anything! *cough* *cough* *hack* *hairball emerges*

      In short, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

  49. Personally as the person trying to hard to make friends just hearing “no thank you” would be better than second guessing myself. If anything it’s mean not to tell someone NO outright. (At least socially speaking)

  50. Y’all, the sheer number of times in my life I have been The Unwanted Friend Attempt is staggering. Staggering. Maybe it’s the various mental whatevers, but I truly did not see a pattern until I was like 22. I’m not joking. I really, truly didn’t see a connection between all these events.

    One night I put up a whiny post on my blog about how lonely and sad I felt, and a friend who, in retrospect, had recently been trying to African Violet me finally broke down and sent me a novel via text about how she wasn’t interested in the things I talked to her about, and she was tired of “audiencing” for me, and when she saw a message from me she went, “oh, great, now I have to come up with a noncommittal response to send to Betsy,” and this and that and on and on and I was completely blindsided because I was so oblivious to the situation that I honestly believed it was totally in my head. I didn’t think she was deliberately ignoring me at all, I wasn’t trying to passive-aggressively guilt her into talking to me. I had assumed it was my clinical paranoia and I was telling myself, “shut it, Jerkbrain, get your feelings out on your blog and quit obsessing about it,” and… it turned out to be true! Which broke my heart! I spent such a long time thinking back at our entire friendship and wondering when it stopped being that for her, if it had ever been that for her, wishing she’d just told me… And then I thought back.

    I’d been “sorry, just sooooo busy, maybe if you tried me on AIM?” dumped a year before that, and just kept butting against the wall she put up like a bee against a window, for months. And when I was in high school, I used to have this friend who was pretty depressed, and I could see it, so a couple times a week I’d text her just to say, like, “hey, saw this thing, reminded me of you!” or a little joke to cheer her up, and finally one day she texted back to leave her the fuck alone and stop sending her stupid shit, and I was like, FINE, SORRY FOR BOTHERING YOU WITH MY FRIENDSHIP!!! Which was great, good call, me. And then, in middle school I literally received a very kind letter from a friend telling me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to take a step back from our friendship, and she “wanted us to be more like friendly classmates where we wave at each other in the hall and that’s it,” and I broke down blubbering and trying to address whatever I’d done to cause her to spurn me so, until she felt bad and told me she didn’t mean it. And listen: I genuinely believed we had just, like, made up and were friends again, when it is obvious that she had explicitly broken up with me and I had inadvertently manipulated her into taking it back.

    Like, this isn’t a pity post, my point is that it took me two decades to see what was going on. Okay? I’d take what would ordinarily be an ended friendship, drag it out on the racks and grind it into the dirt until they flipped out on me, cry about it, and eventually move on, only to make the same mistakes again. This final dead african violet on my heap of dead african violets finally clued me in that I had a bigass pile of african violets in the middle of my living room. I realized that I had no internal gauge on whether my overtures of friendship were reciprocated or even enjoyed. I truly could not tell, and I needed to teach myself a metric, like a blind person memorizing how many steps it takes to get to a certain place.

    And lo, I learned the art of Fuck Off.

    My new policy is that as soon as you hurt my feelings, I Fuck Off. After one (1) message, I wait, and if I don’t get a response in two months, I Fuck Off. I back away, and assume the friendship has ended: if you wanted to talk to me, you would talk to me. It was nice while it lasted, but now it is done, and I can wish you well in my heart and move on. I can close that chapter of my life. I can dismiss your case without prejudice. People I’ve known for a long time get three (3) messages before the Fuck Off.

    If you come at me several months later and want to be friends again, I can be open to writing over that save file and starting a new friendship with you: you can grandfather in to level two friendship. But if you never come back, that’s cool too: I’ve Fucked Off. I’ve given myself permission to call it a loss and move on. I’m giving myself permission to quit bullying myself over how you probably never liked me to begin with. I’m giving myself permission to accept that “friends forever” is hogwash and friendships are transient and I can enjoy them while they’re there like a movie that eventually ends. I’m giving myself permission to retain my dignity for once in my life.

    I cannot tell you how freeing my Fuck Off policy has been for me. Instead of crumpling up and twisting into knots when I start to think somebody might actually dislike me, I can go, “Huh. Guess we’re not friends anymore!” and let them go. At long last, I can stop obsessing over whether or not somebody in my life secretly hates my guts. I can stop scrambling to fix things that can’t be fixed. I can truly enjoy friendships now. As long as they show interest, I can reciprocate; and as soon as they don’t, I can Fuck Off.

    I am not neurotypical, so this is quite literally a skill I had to painstakingly earn through years of practice. And all I can say is that even if you friend-dump somebody and they react the way 12-year-old Betsy did and dissolve into wailing misery until you backpedal and entrap yourself until you can finally go to a different high school, stick to your guns and let them deal with that shit on their own. It sucks, but don’t go back and forth, because it just teaches them that breakups are just a rough patch they can fix by showing you enough affection. Do you and get out and let them feel their feels. They’re not your ward. They’re just somebody from the last chapter.

    1. Betsy. You are awesome Thank you for this! ^-^
      I wish there was a like button. Because your “FUCK OFF POLICY” is golden. I hope you don’t mind if I follow your example and borrow it for myself? I have needed this forever!
      I am sorry you had to go through all that stuff in the beginning but clearly you have come out wiser.
      maybe it’s because I sympathise but….Here’s to hoping Maybe one of LW’s not-friends comes across this. If not there is plenty of advice here!

    2. This is me too — my story is like yours with some details changed, but I think I am very often this person as well. I have never really dealt with it though…this post and comments are bringing up a whole lot for me!

      Betsy – how is your social life and community now? Is it something you are happy with?

    3. Thank you. I sometimes come on a bit strong, I go from hi waive across the room to bff’s in under 60 seconds with certain people and varying levels of intoxication. I did this to someone I slept with and lo it was manipulative and stalkery and I was sooo sad it did not last. I also had a fallacy for a while that friendships made in college were supposed to be the ones forever!!!! But I didn’t really like many of them so much and it turns out the friend I’ve made in my 30s are so much better suited to me. Being able to just fuckoff anyone who doesn’t do reciprocity is sooo freeing.

      Story: I went above and beyond for one person I was friend-wooing and brought her lunch across town at great inconvenience to me once. Every time our paths would cross prior to that she was all “I love you so much you’re my favorite!!!” and she did the same when I brought her lunch but also, she is sooo busy she never offers anything and never responded to my invites to hang out ever. I’ve learned she is that person I can enjoy hanging with when our paths randomly cross and that is it. It has allowed me to not resent her or feel like I must be a bad person. It has allowed me to truly enjoy the interactions we have maybe 1 per year.

  51. This is really timely; I definitely have a few people in my life who keep sending me really nice invites, even though I always say no.

    In my case, it’s not even an “I don’t really care for you” scenario. We have some really complex and difficult family stuff going on, and it’s frankly exhausting and hard to talk about, and I find I just want to spend my discretionary time with old, trusted friends who already know what’s going on.

    The idea of exchanging getting-to-know-you pleasantries with even the kindest stranger would be just too much right now. I’m afraid my new-friend queue is closed for the moment. It kinda bums me out, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to develop a solid, reciprocal friendship at this moment in my life. Nor do I want to explain all that to someone who’s just throwing out a friendly “let’s get coffee.”

  52. I’ve had a few mild cases of unrequited friendship, where I really wanted someone (generally someone who was a little older and who I thought was soooo cool and interesting) to like me but eventually realised it wasn’t going to happen. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve come to realise they were people I didn’t really have much in common with to begin with. In at least one case, the way that person treated me when I was trying to friend them made me lose respect for them. Rejection I can handle, but we moved in similar friend circles and whenever our paths crossed she went out of her way to patronise and belittle me, even after I stopped seeking out her company. On the other hand, she did introduce me to someone who became one of my best friends, so I’m grateful for that.

    What I’ve taken away from these experiences is that even when it stings, straightforwardness is generally better than awkward avoidance or worse, reluctantly hanging out with someone you don’t particularly care for. There’s a reason you don’t care for that person, even if they’re a perfectly wonderful human being, even if that reason is just “eh, not feeling it” and in the long run you’ll both be happier if you can gracefully move on.

  53. Declining being friends with someone you don’t want to be friends with is in fact, IME, far less crueler than letting them think that they’ve got a chance, you’re just busy etc, or forming a low-level friendship which fills you with seething resentment and eventually curdles into hatred that boils over and ends up with you hurting them by lying to them and revealing it. I know that some people think that “I don’t want to be your friend/hang out with you/get to know you more” is The Cruelest Thing Ever, but quite frankly that’s just what you have to say sometimes, and I have noticed that that kind of feeling often comes from a combination of the following:

    1) sensitivity to rejection (whether that’s just their personality or because they have not been rejected often or taught how to deal with it)
    2) intense interest/investment in what literally everyone they encounter thinks of them
    3) projecting being rejected as meaning that the other person hates them / that they are fundamentally ugly, bad, worthless, horrible, annoying, and so on
    4) inability to separate how other people see them from how they see themselves–so being rejected harms their own self-esteem

    And that sucks! It really does suck for the people who are really really upset by rejection, but that doesn’t mean that they get to never experience it. For me, because of some disabilities, brushing my teeth absolutely sucks and I hate it deeply. But the teeth get dirty and have to be brushed; sometimes people don’t want to be friends with you and you just have to deal with it.

  54. I’m not great at “No”, until I started phrasing it as “Not for me, thanks!”

    I think it’s feels easier because it’s subjective, it’s not “No, absolutely not, why would anyone want to, God!”, it’s “I do not want to”.

  55. Speaking as a representative of the other side: I tend to take the shotgun approach to friendships. I’m not great at reading social cues, so if one person in a larger group wants to be friends, the easiest way for me to find them would be to extend an invitation to everyone and see who bites. Also, I’ve spent a lot of time with people whose social anxiety means that they need a lot of reassurance that you really, actually do want to be their friend, for serious,before they’ll believe it. So I might come across as SO! INVESTED! IN! THIS! FRIENDSHIP! to people I barely know when that’s just, my default baseline.

    That said, it’s always totally okay to tell me no! I’m fully expecting to get “thanks but no thanks” at least half the time. It’s not hurting my feelings, it’s just how I know I should leave them with “Well, let me know if you find a time that works…” and try someone else. I regularly invite 80 people to parties at my house that can hold about 20 – occasionally I get to reconnect with people I wasn’t expecting to see, and for everyone else, it’s easy to click “not going.”

    So yeah, I don’t know if this is how the people who are bugging LW are, but if thinking of them that way makes it easier to say no, I’d say go for it.

  56. Long time lurker here… just wanted to point out a counter-perspective on the “party solution” – as someone with social anxiety esp in large group settings (n>8ish), being invited to a party as compensation for turning down coffee/lunch/tete-a-tete is not a 1:1 exchange. Well, I’m sure we could all agree that it is not a 1:1 exchange, but we might have disagreements about which way it is weighted! I can usually get myself together for 1 party a month, when I try and get the “15 minutes of face time” with my “party friends”. I usually leave feeling exhausted and not particularly socially fulfilled. So when I ask people to get coffee! or lunch! and they say no, how about come to my party this weekend?, I usually toss in the chips and file that possible friendship on the low-stakes shelf.

    I’m not trying to throw shade on one socializing style or another. It just might be difficult for a “party person” and a “one-on-one person” to make it work, and that doesn’t make either of them bad people! This is something that I have come to accept, esp in the post-college years when people’s lives really start to diverge. Sometimes boats drift apart without anyone having to row.

    But anyways… I thought it was worth pointing out that there might be other reasons someone may not come to your party… They might still want to be your friend, but the party might not be their scene…

    (although… now I am thinking about whether or not this makes me a jerk for not being willing to accommodate other people’s preferences better? maybe… 😦 )

    1. I don’t think it makes you a jerk unless you’re actually mean about it. If someone I was getting to know told me flat out that they don’t like gatherings of more than [x] number of people, I would stop sending them party invites but still keep them in mind for one on one or small group activities. Those invites would probably be less frequent simply because I can invite more people to a party at once, but I wouldn’t drop someone because they don’t like parties. (And some people are in the “I don’t usually go to parties and I usually only have the social energy to stay about an hour, so I won’t come most of the time but I’m happy to be invited”. I’ll keep inviting those folks and be happy to see them on the rare occasions they’re up for it).

      If someone else really doesn’t do one on one socializing ever (which could happen for any number of reasons), they’re probably not a compatible friend for you, which is fine and doesn’t mean either of you are bad people.

      One other thing that might play a role is that sometimes inviting someone to a group event is a lower stakes way for me to get to know them better than one on one. If there are other folks around, there’s less danger of the conversation faltering and finding ourselves staring at our coffee looking for things to say. So I might wait to extend the one on one invite until we’ve been around each other in groups enough for me to think we’ll be able to find enough conversation on our own.

      1. Hi, LW here! I think this exchange actually sums up a lot of feels for me. I’m often totally happy to be at the same party as these not-friends, and if it weren’t for the fact that they keep asking me to do one-on-one stuff and I don’t want to lead them on, I would otherwise be happy to invite them to my own parties! But shoot, one-on-one hangs FOR ME take a heck of a lot more social juice (and time!) than a party or group hang, so I am just not at all interested in getting coffee or a drink with someone I don’t really like and where I know that it’s not gonna just be me telling stories to fill the dead air and feeling like a performing dog.

        1. Hi LW! Perhaps these situations where you are fine with the status quo and don’t want to come across as rude could be a good place to set a boundary. The next time a person at a party invites you to the 50th coffee you could say, “I’m really enjoying the energy of this party/seeing you at this party/I like mingling in groups with you and want to keep it this way. Let’s enjoy this party while we’re here! Subject change: how’s your dog/what is that tasty-looking thing on your plate/I’m gonna go dance now

          1. I know even for me if a good friend is at my party and keeps talking about going to that play with me next week or that art project we’re gonna do together, I will at some point want to say hey! I’m drunk in in party mode! Let’s not talk shop. What I generally do in reality is let my tipsy ADD take over and I wander off and go dance or something. But for me this is a different mode/headspace/mindset so I really don’t want to make plans or discuss somethings when I’m here to have low-level interaction with many people and maybe also dance.

        2. OMG are you me? I totally get this feeling. I find one on one way more tiring as well. While I don’t super love huge noisy parties either, having a group of people feels way less pressure to me. I don’t have to carry 50% (or more) of the conversation, or constantly worry about awkward silences.

        3. I’m an introvert who throws a holiday party every year and who enjoys the occasional party over most smaller group activities. This always surprises people, but I explain it this way: social interactions mean I have to be “on”. If I’m going to be “on” I want to do it for as many people at one time as possible for a set time. Plus, the larger group setting means I’m not the only person my friends focus on for the whole time. I can give 10 minutes here and there to catch up with people I just don’t have the emotional energy to see more than a few times a year and we all walk away happy.

  57. Bad way to handle friends (or “friends”) you want to stop being friends with: Tell your mother to tell them, when they call, that you are not home when you are actually sitting ten feet away and are thus very much at home.

    Good way to realize that you don’t want to be friends with someone: Watch them get their mother to lie to a “friend” on the phone, and realize that you’ve been told “she’s not home” before, too. (Unfortunately, I was not this smart at age 10, and it took a few more years for the lesson to sink in.)

    If they’ll do it to someone else because they are bad at Using Their Words, they’ll do it to you, also, and their mother will go along with it. As Dr. Bronner’s Soap would say, TELL ALL CHILDREN. OK!

  58. I once AGONIZED over my ex’s wife’s DEEP desire to be close friends with me. She kept sending me presents (at work; we worked for different divisions of the same company). She kept inviting me places. After a year I finally had to respond to a present by telling her — “Look, I am sorry for this, because you have never been anything but kind to me, but your husband gives me nightmares, so we cannot be friends.”

    She apologized and stopped dead. We sometimes see each other at big events (she is now an employee of a close friend), and are kind and polite to each other. Her husband still gives me nightmares, but I think she said something to him because he hasn’t tried to speak to me since (he used to try to chat, or ask me out for lunch). If she did, I am eternally grateful, and I do like her the better for her reaction to the situation. It might have been a nice friendship under other circumstances.

    1. Glad you got free of that. I feel there’s a bit of weirdness around someone wanting to be friends with their partner’s ex. Like even if he didn’t give you nightmares I feel it would still totally make sense to say, “You’re with someone I used to date so we can’t be friends.”
      YMMV but I never ever ever want to meet my ex’s wife. No thank you. Not even slightly interested.

  59. Wow this is really timely for me too. I have an ex roommate and kind-of friend who I’m really not interested in being friends with anymore, because I realised I just don’t enjoy hanging out with her. Especially one on one when she dominates the conversation and talks AT me about herself and her interests, and rarely if ever asks about me and my life. She obviously thought we were much closer than I did as she’s still trying hard to keep up the connection. We also still live nearby so I run into her sometimes.

    I’m not ready yet for the direct ‘African violet’ style conversation, and I don’t really feel I can do the Captain’s advice like “you are an excellent person I’m just not feeling it” because there are concrete dislike reasons why I don’t want to be friends.

    But! This post has given me the courage to soften rejections less and not couch it in the “I can’t make that day” language that gives hope there is a better day. And I will work on being okay with her disliking me for this, because that might mean she stops trying, which is a win like the Captain advised. 🙂

    1. Hurray for aha moments! I do think the “I’m just not feeling it” can still work. Even if your active dislike reasons are there underneath. maybe leave off the “You’re an excellent person” as you don’t really agree but there can still be “I hope you find someone better suited to hang out with!”

  60. Respecting no; very important in personal circles! Wanted to add the probably-obvious caviat that professionally finding your way around “no” can be a huge skill, though. (On my mind a lot these days as I try to build my career)

  61. A while ago I was the person asking someone I didn’t know too well but wanted to know better to do something. The person I asked said “No thanks.” Not going to lie. There was this “record scratch” moment where I wondered “did she really just say no to me?” She was perfectly nice about her no and the conversation moved on but I do remember thinking it was a weird moment. I also thought it was brave. She said no and offered no excuses, no reasons. Just no thanks and she moved on with the conversation. We see each other occasionally at social functions and we’re perfectly kind and polite to one another, but in my head I’ve filed her under “Not a friend, don’t pursue”.

  62. I’ve been the clueless friend dumpee (driftee?) a few times; the two most prominent times following the exact same pattern:

    – Months of ‘We should get together! How about X?’/’I can’t X, but we totally should! Sometime!’

    – Christmas arrives. Christmas passes. Their present in its holiday paper looks ever-more depressing as February rolls around because ‘sometime’ never showed up.

    – Present gets put in the mail, and I make a command decision to stop initiating contact.

    – Radio silence ensues.

    Suffice to say it’s made me gun-shy about making friend overtures (and romantic ones, for that matter) to people and especially paranoid about monitoring reciprocity for signs that someone is just being nice out of kindness or pity while secretly thinking ‘Oh no it’s HER again’. Captain’s advice about gentle ‘no’s being made more acceptable would make the world a far kinder place, imo.

  63. LW, I chuckled as I read this post, as I’ve been on both sides of the equation. Just a couple of nights ago I attended the wedding of a former coworker who is good friends with a lot of my current and former coworkers. I happened to see a former coworker who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, and I think I accidentally came off as a bit over the top… I’m a chameleon, and I get caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment if I’m having a good time, so I said to her that I was excited to see her, and that I missed her, and I saw her get the deer in headlights look. The ending part of that statement, should have been… As a coworker… I missed her as a coworker because she was a really awesome coworker (great at her job, no drama). Hahahaha… In retrospect I could see why she reacted the way she did, but it was totally unintentional on my part. I have a tendency to get caught in hyperbole.

    All that to say, sometimes people aren’t as interested as being your friend as you may think they are. I do have a fairly bad habit of running hot and cold as a person, based on the situation I’m in, so some people perceive me as being too standoffish and others too friendly. It makes for some confusion on my part, but I’ve learned how not to take it too personally (eager beaver or too cool for school seem to be my default). There are some people who, out of custom, seem to make vague statements around getting together to do things every time I see them, but never actually follow through, so I treat it just the same way I do dating… If there isn’t any sort of specific time/date/thing, I smile and nod, but ignore it.

    But yeah, I guess there are those people who just can’t take a hint and who are pushy about it, and it’s probably better to be direct but kind. It might hurt you socially, but I think it would be a blip on the radar of people who know you well.

  64. Re: “Don’t use the word “sorry” anywhere in the sentence.”

    I usually do say ‘sorry’ in similar situations, because I’m aware that I’m hurting the person’s feelings, and I want to lessen the sting. But the no still means no – I’m not sorry for saying no, I’m sorry for (potentially) hurting the other person.

  65. Actually CA’s example was a really good one, I’d prefer to say something like that.

    I would probably only change something to “I’m not interested in pursuing a one on one friendship at this point” so I can leave room to change my mind, but this is only valid if someone thinks they could or might want to change their mind later. I can take months to years to warm up to people.

    Maybe something like: “You seem like a great person. Right now I’m happy with how we see each other socially and prefer not to have a one on one friendship. If I feel differently in the future, I’ll be happy to invite you out.

    I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next [insert social function]. Take care!!”

    How does this sound to people?

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